This week (9-15 October), marks Baby Loss Awareness Week, a time when anyone affected by the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or termination for medical reasons stand together in remembrance and support. It is also a time when employers should be reflecting on what support they offer to employees who are affected by these issues.
An estimated one in four people in the UK experience pregnancy or baby loss, making it sadly, much more common than many people realise. Despite this, it is typically a taboo subject, with those who have suffered a loss often feeling either unwilling or unable to share their experience with those closest to them, let alone with their employer.
In the workplace, employees may feel that revealing that they have been pregnant or may be trying for a baby will have implications for their opportunities for progression or promotion, or even negatively impact on their pay. As a result, employees may conceal their loss, carrying the emotional and physical burden inside and ‘carrying on as normal’ at work.
This is perhaps not helped by the fact that legally, employees have few rights when it comes to pregnancy loss or baby loss. In April 2020, new legislation was passed which entitles qualifying employees a period of up to two weeks’ leave following the death of a child before the age of 18 and which includes a baby that is stillborn after at least 24 weeks of pregnancy. Employees may also qualify for statutory pay during this time (currently a maximum of £156.66 per week).
While the change to the law was welcome, it remains woefully inadequate and means that employees suffering miscarriage (loss before 24 weeks) have no rights to this leave. They are also excluded from maternity or paternity leave. Employees may be able to take sick leave (to recover from the physical effects of baby loss) or even annual leave, but this falls short of the support employees need at this difficult time.
Employers need to consider having a policy or framework that employees can turn to if they are affected by a pregnancy or baby loss. This might be a specific policy or an extension of an existing bereavement policy, and may cover some or all of the following:
Paid compassionate/bereavement leave for employees affected by pregnancy loss, which also covers partners and surrogates.
Paid leave to attend any medical appointments or investigations relating to the pregnancy loss.
The option of a phased return to work or ability to work from home where an employee may find it difficult to return following a pregnancy or baby loss.
Details of a named individual (typically someone in HR, although it need not be) within the business that the employee can confide in, confidentially, about their pregnancy loss and who is appropriately trained to offer support.
The offer of professional counselling and paid time off to attend this.
Sign-posting other forms of support that exist within the business including Mental Health First Aiders and any Employee Assistance Programme.
Where to find other information and peer support groups, such as through charities like Tommy’s or organisations like The Miscarriage Association, Child Bereavement UK or Saying Goodbye.
Having a framework in place may encourage employees to openly seek support from their employer, rather than dealing with their loss behind closed doors. The training and education of line managers around pregnancy and baby loss also equips them to provide this support in a sensitive and compassionate way, including recognising and avoiding potential triggers (eg, new baby announcements). Compassion is vital for employers at this time.
Laura Tracey is an employment partner at Freeths