Channel 4 recently launched a dedicated pregnancy loss policy, which aims to support employees who have experienced any form of pregnancy loss, whether miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion. As the first major organisation to introduce such a policy in the UK, an important conversation has been started regarding employee rights during this upsetting time. So, should more businesses follow suit?
At present, there are no mandatory employment policies that directly relate to pregnancy loss. In April 2020, paid parental bereavement leave was introduced, allowing parents to take two weeks off work on statutory maternity/paternity pay. However, this only applies to the death of a child under the age of 18 or to stillbirths, which class as a baby that dies less than 24 weeks after birth.
There remains a stigma surrounding the topic of pregnancy loss, leading to parents often keeping the news secret from those around them. However, despite being a private and often highly distressing situation, it has entered the spotlight more recently, with public figures such as Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen aiming to break the taboo by sharing their own experience of miscarriage with the world.
New Zealand’s introduction of statutory leave following pregnancy loss, involving three days of paid leave, has brought the issue to the forefront of the political agenda too. Although not overly generous, it is a start, and has recognised that pregnancy loss is a type of grief at whatever stage.
For employers that are thinking about implementing a pregnancy loss policy, there are a number of considerations to be made. Perhaps most important is who it will apply to. Inclusivity should be a priority with this policy, which means extending the offer of paid leave to fathers and those using a surrogate, as well as mothers. Taking a similar approach to that of equal parental leave may be wise, as this way there will be no discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
Eligibility should also be considered. Many ‘leave’ policies require a minimum service time before they come into effect, so employers will have to choose whether it is an employee right from day one or not. Then there is the issue of how long the leave will be for, and how much the person will be paid. Should statutory pay be the preferred option, the business must then decide which form of statutory pay the policy will be in line with. Parental bereavement may be the simplest option, but it is ultimately up to the employer.
There is also the sensitive matter of notification requirements. Will evidence of the loss be needed? This is arguably the most delicate aspect of a pregnancy loss policy and must be treated with the utmost sensitivity. A doctor’s note could be required as proof, or the employee can self-certify.
Once the period of leave is over, the return-to-work process must also be considered. Offering a phased return or flexible working can help the employee to take things at their own pace. Some people may want to jump straight back into work to distract themselves, but this won’t be the case for everyone, so ideally, a range of options should be provided. Even simple allowances such as being able to take more breaks throughout the day or not having to have video on during calls could be considered.
Support in the form of counselling or resources including the contact details for pregnancy loss charities could also be provided. Employers must remember that support often goes further than paid time off, and that grief doesn’t end as soon as a person returns to work. To ensure sensitivity from managers and colleagues, it may be worth including pregnancy loss in any equality and diversity training that the company carries out.
For employers concerned about missing the mark when creating a pregnancy loss policy, it could be helpful to open a line of communication with staff. By asking the workforce what they would want from the policy, employers can be sure that it meets the needs of their employees.
Hopefully, a pregnancy loss policy will rarely be used, but it is important to have set expectations around the issue, as worrying about work is the last thing people want to be doing when they’ve lost a baby. Introducing a dedicated policy promotes a positive workplace culture, empowering employees to discuss sensitive matters without fear of judgement.
Emma Oliver, employment law specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau.