On May 4, 2019, in the Canada Gazette, the Labour Program of the Department of Employment and Social Development (the “Labour Program”) announced a proposal to require all federally regulated employers to provide free menstrual products in the workplace for employees “due to the shame and stigma that often surrounds menstruation.” In addition, the Labour Program is looking to prevent the use of unhealthy alternatives to menstrual products, for example the use of toilet paper, paper towels or the use of expired products. If passed, this measure would apply to private-sector employers in the federal jurisdiction (e.g. banks, railways, airlines, marine ports, telecommunications, broadcasters etc.), Crown Corporations, and the federal public service.
It is noteworthy that the Labour Program has acknowledged that the physical restrictions of some workplaces within the federal jurisdiction, such as trains and aircraft, may require employers to find suitable locations, apart from washrooms, where menstrual products could be made available. Furthermore, the Labour Program has recognized that employers with employees who travel to different locations as part of their work, such as truck drivers, may have a more difficult time providing menstrual products in the workplace, as the workplace is not always in one single location.
Currently, under Part II of the Canada Labour Code, employers are required to provide the basic toiletry necessities such as toilet paper, soap, warm water and a means to dry hands – but not specifically required to provide employees with menstrual products. Interestingly, south of the border in the United States, similar legislation has recently been proposed in the House of Representative, but has yet to undergo the legislative process before, if ever, it becomes law.
Any further legislative action from the Canadian government is not anticipated before the spring of 2020. In the interim, this should provide stakeholders and the public with a further opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations, and address any issues in need of greater study.
The author wishes to thank Amélye Paquette and Emily Deraîche-Grossberg, summer students in Ottawa, for their contribution to this piece.