Why are so many employers introducing miscarriage policies?

Channel 4, Monzo and Barking and Dagenham Council are among the many firms that have begun offering extra support in the last six months

A large number of firms have recently announced extra support for employees who have experienced miscarriages. Over the last six months alone, Channel 4, Monzo, Barking and Dagenham Council, online grocer Abel & Cole, digital agency Hallam and sustainable period brand Modibodi have all introduced miscarriage policies within their companies.

The issue is not new – research by Imperial College London estimates there are 250,000 miscarriages in the UK every year, and around 11,000 emergency admissions for ectopic pregnancies. 

The study also found that a month on from experiencing a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, nearly a third of women suffer from post-traumatic stress, a quarter experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and one in 10 had moderate to severe depression.

Separate research, by charity Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research, estimates one in four women experience at least one miscarriage in their lives, with one in 100 going through recurrent miscarriages.

People Management takes a look at why so many businesses are now taking steps to look after the wellbeing of employees who have experienced a miscarriage, and how employers can provide more support.

Why businesses are changing now

A couple of key legislative changes, both in the UK and elsewhere, have sparked conversation about miscarriages, says Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association. Both the introduction last year of statutory paid leave for bereaved parents – dubbed Jack’s Law in memory of a child whose mother campaigned for the law – and the introduction in New Zealand of a bill promising to provide bereavement leave for miscarriages and stillbirths have raised the profile of the issue.

The coronavirus crisis has also created a “zeitgeist” surrounding the awareness of wider health and wellbeing issues in the workplace, she says, contributing to the surge in policies.

A study conducted by Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research and the University of Birmingham found that miscarriage costs the UK at least £471m a year because of the direct impact on health services and lost productivity. Scientists expect the figure to surpass £1bn annually when factoring in the longer-term physical, reproductive and mental health impact.

The current law around miscarriage leave

There is no legal requirement for employers to pay miscarriage leave for a woman or her partner, explains Kate Hindmarch, partner in employment law at Langleys Solicitors, and therefore policies differ among workplaces.

“In some organisations, the only option for those affected is to take pregnancy-related sick leave that is often paid at a fraction of their normal wage,” she says. “This means that they will have the added stress of dealing with the loss of earnings while trying to grieve.”

Jack’s Law, which came into force on 6 April 2020, created statutory parental bereavement leave that covers employees who have a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, but it does not cover miscarriages, which happen before 24 weeks. These employees also do not have any right to statutory maternity leave or pay, and it’s up to employers to set their own sickness absence procedure in these circumstances.

Hindmarch is hopeful that as more employers adopt their own miscarriage policies, it will start to reduce the stigma around the issue. 

“Following these recent high-profile organisations updating their procedures, we should hopefully start to see others doing the same, ensuring that those who need it are receiving the correct support in their time of need,” she adds.

But Bender Atik warns the UK government is unlikely to legislate on the issue. “If the government was providing statutory leave and it was coming up with the money for all pregnancy loss, it would be a lot of money and I'm sure that would be part of that calculation,” she says. “It doesn't mean that the consideration isn't there, but I think that might be a problem.”

Bender Atik adds it is a lot easier for businesses to decide their policy on leave for miscarriages than it was for the government, “because companies control how many days people are allocated and how much it costs”.

What steps can employers take?

Alongside having a clear miscarriage policy, Bender Atik says employers need to build a supportive work culture where people do not feel the subject is taboo. “You want workers who are going to be loyal and committed and come back to work after leave at the point at which they feel recovered and they feel able to work, rather than working when their head’s not in it,” she explains.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at CIPD, says a pregnancy loss policy is helpful for employees to know that they will be supported. “It’s really important that managers acknowledge the loss and are empathetic,” she says, adding that, when appropriate, it is also a good idea for employers to ask what support individuals might need and to remember that partners might also need support.

“Someone who has experienced pregnancy loss is likely to need time off to recover physically and emotionally,” says McCartney. “People who experience more than one loss often feel that they get less support each time, but this is often when they need it most.”