Free Menstrual Products for Employees Now a Requirement for Federally-Regulated Workplaces


Recently, Canada made a significant step towards joining the growing number of jurisdictions providing free menstrual products to those who use them. Regulatory changes under the Canada Labour Code, which governs federally-regulated workplaces in Canada, now require employers to make menstrual products available to all employees free of cost at work.

Under these changes, which came into effect in December, 2023, employees can expect to see tampons and pads made available in employee washrooms, or other reasonably private locations in the workplace. Additionally, appropriate disposal receptacles are now required in all employee washrooms.

This new offering is not without limits. Menstrual products are not required to be stocked in washrooms accessed by the public, for example, or to employees working from home. Employers are encouraged, but not required to consult with employees about particular product brands.

Who are these federal workers who will not longer have to pay for personal care items essential as soap and water while at work? They include those who work in big industries like banking, radio and television broadcasting, and air transportation, as well as for railways, and Crown corporations. And, by virtue of section 91(24) of the Constitution, First Nations are on that list as well. This means that the reach of the Canada Labour Code’s new requirements for menstrual products likely extends to First Nations too.

How is this a problem? Well, what might be a slight inconvenience in a city or even a small town located along a highway in the south, can be a massive burden and practical impossibility in remote northern communities. Ask anyone who has ever tried to procure a reasonably priced head of lettuce in a fly-in community; securing essential goods at a reasonable prices and predictable intervals is a challenge in the north.

The menstrual product requirements are likely to be far more onerous for isolated First Nations to satisfy than other federally-regulated employers, and supports to account for this gap are not apparent. The disparity in practical and financial cost of the new requirements between the diverse federally-regulated employers is itself a matter of equity.

Imagine asking a Sunday dinner guest to bring a salad as a contribution to the meal. That seemingly innocuous request means one thing if you live in Toronto, and quite another if you live in Fort Severn. Most wouldn’t argue that a green salad is a healthy and worthwhile addition to any meal. What is often forgotten is that the magnitude of the request is informed by geography, scale, and status. That is something to consider that when it comes to legislatively imposing new requirements on federally-regulated employers. Even if we all agree that salad is important, we should pay attention to where our dinner guests are coming from and seek their input on what ends up on the table.

Written by Anais M. Giasson

Edwards Bell Jewitt LLP