Why employers should offer paid leave for pregnancy loss

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·5-min read
Rear view of a caucasian woman seated on the bedroom during lockdown coronavirus
Rear view of a caucasian woman seated on the bedroom during lockdown coronavirus

Earlier this month, two UK employers announced they would be offering employees paid leave in the event of pregnancy loss. Channel 4 and digital bank Monzo will offer either partner up to two weeks' paid leave following a miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth.

“At Channel 4 we recognise that the loss of a pregnancy, no matter the circumstances, can be a form of grief that can have a lasting emotional and physical impact on the lives of many women and their partners," Channel 4's CEO Alex Mahon said in a statement.

At Monzo, either partner will be offered up to 10 days of paid leave following any form of pregnancy loss, regardless of when it occurs in the pregnancy. It also announced that workers undergoing fertility treatments, diagnosis or consultations will be offered an additional days of extra paid leave each year.

"This might be used for taking time to rest after a procedure, recover from the emotional effects of treatments or to attend outpatient appointments and scans," the bank said. “This also includes colleagues who are partners or surrogate mothers, recognising that pregnancy loss doesn’t just affect women or heterosexual couples.”

One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, which is around a quarter of a million in the UK, according to the Miscarriage Association. Despite this, the topic is still shrouded in shame and fear - and many women feel their grief is ignored, particularly in the workplace.

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Under current UK law, employers are only required to offer paid leave to parents if they lose a baby 24 weeks or later into a pregnancy. If a woman suffers a pregnancy loss before this point, it’s possible she may be offered leave if she obtains a note from her doctor - but there is no guarantee this will be paid.

“I applaud the move from Channel 4 to offer this leave policy for both parents when they experience pregnancy loss or abortion,” says Clara Wilcox, who runs The Balance Collective, and is the Author of What Now? An Honest Guide to Miscarriage, Baby Loss, Parenting, Mental Health and Rebuilding Your Identity.

“Baby loss at any stage is one of the final bereavement taboos. Whilst the circumstances around the loss can vary one thing unites: Grief. Too often this is considered as a medical process - there is no doubt that we must acknowledge the physical toil that loss takes.”

However, it’s the emotional impact of pregnancy loss that is often overlooked, Wilcox adds. Losing a baby early in pregnancy can be devastating and the emotions around loss are complex. Having an abortion can be an emotionally difficult process, even if it is the right decision. Additionally, a lack of support and understanding can make a woman’s distress even worse, and can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or trauma.

“Two-week paid leave is a great start,” Wilcox says. “It is a time when you can rest, recover, process a traumatic experience, and take the time to adjust. From a practical perspective, though, the physical results of loss can continue for at least four weeks, while the emotional impact can last a lifetime.”

On a broader scale, a UK law change offering all employees paid leave for pregnancy loss would help address existing inequalities in the workplace. Last year, a survey by the Miscarriage Association found many employees felt unable to talk to their managers about their loss for fear of discrimination, with some women even continuing to work while losing their baby.

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More than a third of respondents (40%) felt a lack of support meant the standard of their work suffered after going back to their jobs, while 11% ultimately ended up leaving their roles. Many other respondents reported that they were given time off but did not receive full pay so had to return before they were ready.

However, there is a growing awareness of the need for employers to offer better support to staff. Earlier this month, in what is considered to be a world-first, New Zealand approved legislation that will allow pregnant people and their partners paid bereavement leave for a pregnancy loss at any point during a pregnancy.

But with no official guidance in place around miscarriage and the workplace in the UK, even compassionate employers sometimes struggle to know how best to offer support.

She says the best practical advice for making a policy work is to ask the employee what they need. They may not immediately know, in which case managers should make it clear that their door is open when the employee is ready to talk. Delayed grief can mean an employee needs time off later down the line.

“For some, it may be life as usual. Work can be a useful distraction,” she says. “For others, it can be a staged response, with an adjustment in duties.”

The Miscarriage Association offers useful guidance for employers wanting to support people through pregnancy loss. “Offering a staged return with the parent, taking into consideration their emotional resilience, and their needs to access bereavement or grief therapy enables them to process what they have experienced,” says Wilcox. “It’s not a one size fits all, as each loss is unique.”

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