Baby Loss Awareness Week: supporting your employees

Laura Tracey outlines how businesses can help bereaved workers beyond their legal obligations

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Baby Loss Awareness Week is held every year in the UK in October and is a time for people to come together to commemorate the lives of babies lost in pregnancy or soon after birth.

One in four pregnancies in the UK end in loss during pregnancy or birth and, regardless of the stage of the pregnancy that this occurs, it is a deeply personal and distressing event for those involved.

Baby Loss Awareness Week is therefore also an opportunity for employers to demonstrate their support for employees affected by baby loss and perhaps also to reflect on whether they are creating an environment in which employees feel able to discuss this topic. Unfortunately, many employees still feel unable to talk about their experiences and actively hide them from their employer, leaving them feeling isolated and anxious while also having to cope with their grief.

In circumstances where a baby is lost after the 24th week of pregnancy, all the legal consequences of childbirth apply, so the mother will be entitled to maternity leave and statutory maternity pay will also be available. Equally, partners may also be eligible for paternity leave. Employees may also be entitled to two weeks’ statutory parental bereavement leave and pay, providing employees with a right to time away from the workplace to grieve. Where an employee suffers a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy (known as a miscarriage or neonatal loss), however, these rights do not apply. 

Increasingly businesses are looking at ways in which they can support employees who suffer baby loss beyond the limited protections offered by law. These might include:

  • Coming together during Baby Loss Awareness Week and encouraging employees to talk about their experiences. While not all workers will be willing to share what they have been through, if employers can facilitate a space for them to do so, this can be very powerful and help to remove the stigma around baby loss in the workplace.
  • Asking experts to deliver webinars or events to help break the silence around baby loss and increase understanding. Charities such as Tommy’s also have significant resources to support employers in helping to support their employees.
  • Having a policy or guidance where pregnancy and baby loss is explicitly referenced, so employees feel empowered to ask for support. It is also recommended that organisations consider an employee’s journey to find that information and that any policy is not placed within the maternity/paternity policy of a staff handbook for this reason.
  • Offering enhanced leave and pay to employees who suffer a baby loss to allow them time to grieve without feeling they have to rush back to work. For example, the Co-Op offers four weeks leave and full pay for anyone who suffers the loss of a child under 18, including through miscarriage or neonatal loss, covering parents, partners and intended parents. Employers could also consider offering paid counselling.
  • Upskilling colleagues and managers so that they have the skills and confidence to navigate difficult conversations around baby loss.
  • Showing flexibility to employees who experience baby loss. This is a significant life event like any bereavement, and it’s important to recognise that grief does not have a timeline and employees will not return to work ‘fixed’, but may need ongoing support.
  • Recognising and helping to minimise the impact of triggers for those who have experienced baby loss, such as new baby announcements, anniversaries and Mothers and Fathers Day.

Regardless of a business’s budget or resources, all employers can approach employees who have experienced baby loss with kindness and compassion, and this will go a long way.

Laura Tracey is an employment partner at Freeths