Miscarriage Support: How Can Employers Help?
Miscarriage Support – Why is it Needed?
Losing a baby during pregnancy is an incredibly heart-breaking experience. It can take an emotional and physical toll on the woman who has experienced it, as well as her family, friends and employers.
In this article, we will explore the common causes of miscarriage before 24 weeks gestation, how employers can implement miscarriage support for their employees through such a difficult time, and strategies for moving forward after losing a baby.
We hope that by understanding more about miscarriage, employers are better equipped to provide meaningful support for women dealing with this loss. We will offer an overview of how employers can best support employees during this difficult time. Our aim is to prepare employers with the knowledge to provide compassion and understanding for those who have experienced loss.
Miscarriage Support at Work in 2023
In 2022 the Government announced, as part of its newly launched Women’s Health Strategy, that it would be introducing pregnancy loss certificates for women who lose their babies before 24 weeks gestation. While this legislation has not yet been passed we wanted to keep you updated on its’ progress and what it will mean for employers.
Statistics show that around one in four pregnancies in the UK are thought to end in a miscarriage – although, the figure could be much higher. That’s because the UK currently does not record miscarriages, meaning that the scale of the issue remains unknown. But that could all be about to change, as part of the Government’s new initiative that will see parents given recognition of a pregnancy loss through a certificate. Previously, if a woman lost her baby before 24 weeks, it was registered as a miscarriage. Only if she lost her baby after 24 weeks gestation was the death recorded as a stillbirth. The initiative means that pregnancy loss certificates will be given to parents in the UK who have lost a child before 24 weeks, with the aim of acknowledging the difficult situation and hopefully breaking down the taboo that still surrounds pregnancy loss.
Employers need to be aware of the emotional and physical repercussions that can accompany pregnancy loss. Experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth, or another type of pregnancy loss can leave a profound effect on those involved. Such an experience can result in feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and grief as well as physical effects such as fatigue and insomnia.
So what can you, as an employer, do to support those dealing with the emotional and physical effects of a miscarriage?
Create a Safe Environment
Employers can take action by creating a safe and understanding atmosphere for those affected by pregnancy loss. This means offering respect and understanding for individual recovery journeys, as well as providing an opportunity for employees to discuss their grief in a safe space.
Mental Health and Emotional Support
It is also important to consider the mental health of employees after pregnancy loss. Employers can do this by ensuring that they have an open and supportive atmosphere. This should involve creating a safe space in which employees can discuss any concerns or issues they may have, free from judgement or fear of repercussions. Remember that everyone experiences grief differently and there is no set timeline for recovery. Therefore it is essential to provide employees with the necessary time and support for them to heal.
If organisations have an employee assistance programme, this may be a beneficial way to provide the support they need by tapping into expert specialist support when they need it the most. By taking action and providing the necessary support, employers can make a positive difference in the lives of those affected by pregnancy loss. Being committed to creating a compassionate and understanding environment for those who have experienced loss, and ensuring that employees receive the time, care and guidance they need during difficult times will make a positive difference.
We understand that no two cases of pregnancy loss will be identical, so we encourage individual employees to speak with their line manager or HR department about what kind of help is needed for them personally.
Financial and Practical Help
Employers should first aim to provide paid time off for those affected. Depending on the individual circumstances, this may include allowing them to take additional time off for medical appointments or access to resources such as support groups and specialised counselling services.
Providing flexibility with employee working hours as those affected begin the return to work can also be an important factor.
Taking time off after a miscarriage
Many women who have experienced a miscarriage have not been told about pregnancy-related leave.
There is no prescribed amount of time to take off following a miscarriage and there is a misconception that female employees are only allowed to take up to two weeks off following a pregnancy loss and this is often confused with the protected period.
Whether time off is related to pregnancy or miscarriage will be down to a professional to decide. Any sickness absence as a result of a miscarriage must be treated in the same way as pregnancy-related sickness. Of course, any period of sickness absence should be paid at the rate of statutory sick pay or contractual sick pay of your organisation pays enhanced sick pay. If an employee returns to work after having suffered a miscarriage and then realises that she has returned too soon, and needs further time off, if this additional time off is signed off by a GP or another health professional, this should still be treated as a pregnancy-related absence.
Line managers must be very mindful when it comes to sickness absence in these circumstances as an employee should not be treated less favourably because of any pregnancy-related illness. This will constitute unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination and any dismissal will amount to an automatic unfair dismissal.
As with all discrimination matters, an employee does not need two years of service to bring a claim for pregnancy discrimination.
Normal holiday entitlement continues to accrue during any period of absence. In circumstances where, at the end of the holiday year, the mother hasn’t been able to take her accrued holiday because of pregnancy-related illness, the usual take it or lose it rules will not apply and the untaken holiday may be carried over to the following holiday year.
Any pregnancy loss before 24 weeks is known as a miscarriage or late foetal loss. Since a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy is not classed as childbirth all the statutory rights normally associated with maternity and paternity do not apply.
This means that neither the mother nor her partner has any statutory rights to maternity leave or paternity leave. Similarly, neither the mother nor her partner will be entitled to any maternity pay or paternity pay. There is also no statutory right to maternity allowance either in circumstances where the mother does not qualify to receive statutory maternity pay.
Current legislation states that employees and their partners may be able to take time off work if their baby dies before they turn 18, or if they have a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. As already mentioned, with pregnancy loss before 24 weeks, this means that neither will be entitled to statutory parental bereavement leave or statutory parental bereavement pay as they would not qualify for this statutory right.
Again, (unpaid) parental leave is also not an option available to a family who has suffered a miscarriage or late foetal loss. An organisation may, however, have a bereavement leave policy or a compassionate leave policy which may entitle the employee to take time off in line with the company policy itself. If there is no such a policy, line managers may want to consider allowing a grieving parent to take this time off, either as paid or unpaid.
With the introduction of the pregnancy loss certificate, we expect some changes that currently do not apply to those who have experienced pregnancy loss allowing for better financial help and support during this time.
Currently, under the Equality Act 2010, a woman has the right not to be discriminated against because of anything related to her pregnancy or maternity. The protection begins the moment she becomes pregnant and ends after a protected period for two weeks after the end of the pregnancy. After that period, a woman still has protection against disciplinary actions or unfair treatment due to pregnancy, miscarriage, or related sick leave, which may be claimed as direct and/or indirect sex discrimination rather than pregnancy discrimination, regardless of absence length. Employers should be aware of this and consider any evidence that shows a connection between the issues before taking any action against the employee.
Although the Government has yet to introduce paid miscarriage leave or extend parental bereavement leave and pay to cover miscarriages, employers should do their best to support employees who have experienced such a tragedy. Miscarriage support in the workplace is important for both your personal relationship with your staff and your business.
As the new legislation awaits the Private Member’s Bill being passed by Parliament we at HR:4UK are already creating a policy for clients around this subject if you would like further advice.
For more information regarding miscarriage support in the workplace and how to help as an employer, get in touch with the team today. At HR:4UK, we empower and protect businesses across the UK, yours can be next.
A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.