Federal law doesn’t require businesses to provide feminine hygiene products for their employees, and (as far as I know) no state requires it either. Thankfully, a recent change to Flexible Spending Accounts means that you can use that money for tampons and pads, meaning that the IRS finally recognizes them as essential health care items. But even so, not everyone has a health care plan that provides an FSA or participates in one.
Providing tampons is probably good for employee retention too — especially if there are a lot of low-income employees. What do the numbers say? Jezebel estimates women spend about $120 a year on menstrual products during their reproductive lifetime, a total of about $5,000. And many women in the U.S. have experienced “period poverty” during their lifetime, meaning, for women living on the edge financially, it could be a choice between buying tampons or dinner.
Of course, a company could just say, “Let’s bump everyone’s pay up!” and the problem would be solved. That’s great — I’m always in favor of companies voluntarily raising wages.
But it’s not only the cost of sanitary supplies that can be an issue. According to the Free the Tampons Foundation, an organization “committed to restroom equality,” 86 percent of women have started their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they need. Of those, 62 percent went to the store immediately to buy supplies and 34 percent went home immediately. If it happens at work, it can be embarrassing, messy, and cut into productivity. If an employee has to spend time in the restroom cleaning up or decides she needs to go home, it can be a big deal.
Here are some reasons to consider this for your business:
This is a tiny expense, all things considered. An employer wouldn’t need to spend $10 per month for each female employee. Many women use the same brand of products month after month, so it’s unlikely they are going to switch on the promise of a free tampon in the bathroom at work. My bet? Most women will see them only as an emergency resource.
You can work it out with property management. Most companies work out of office buildings with shared bathrooms, and the property management company supplies products. These management companies already supply toilet paper, toilet seat covers, soap, and paper towels or a hand dryer. It’s likely tampons and pads can be provided from the same source. For small businesses, sticking a couple of boxes of tampons and pads on the counter would probably be sufficient.
Peace of mind is worth a lot of productivity. Knowing that there will always be something available in the bathroom keeps employees happier and less stressed.
Having products available means fewer accidents. An employer may have never noticed this happening, but it happens. Women may not talk about it because it can be embarrassing. It’s unlikely a female employee will go to a male boss and say, “I need to run home and change my pants because I’ve bled through my tampon.” More likely she’ll say, “I’m not feeling well, and I need to go home.” Or she will tie a sweater around her waist. Easy access will reduce these accidents.
It may even reduce bathroom trip times. If everyone sits at desks, it’s easy enough for employees to keep a box of tampons in their desks and pull one out and run to the bathroom. However, if a woman is working on a sales or factory floor, she’ll have to go to her locker, open it, get out her products, and then go to the bathroom. This could save a step. Sure, it’s not a lot of time, but it’s also not a lot of money.
The employees will appreciate it. It’s not the first benefit that comes to mind, but it really shows that the employer is thinking about the well-being of its employees. Keep in mind, feminine hygiene products are not unlike toilet paper, which is available in the company bathrooms at no charge to employees and customers — it’s a hygiene product for involuntary, natural bodily functions. And periods are also involuntary, natural bodily functions. No one balks at the idea of providing bottled water or snacks in the break room. These are far more expensive than hygiene products, yet hygiene products can turn a panicked moment into no big deal.
While many employees are still working from home, for those that aren’t, having a company that cares enough to provide an essential item is at work is a great idea that can make a positive difference to a workforce’s productivity and morale. That’s not a bad result for a small investment.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.