As October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we felt it was important to acknowledge this to help raise awareness and also offer some guidance on how managers and business owners can support employees who have lost their baby.
According to Tommy’s (the largest UK charity carrying out research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth), 1 in 4 families will sadly experience a miscarriage at some point in their lifetime and 9 babies are stillborn every day in the UK. Therefore, most workplaces have staff who have been or may be affected.
The experience of pregnancy and infant loss is poorly understood due to the silence surrounding it. It varies from person to person, but it can be an incredibly painful event that has a lasting emotional and physical impact on those experiencing it and their families, no matter the nature of the loss or when it happens.
Thoughtful support and management can make a real difference to how people cope – and can enhance an employee’s commitment and motivation. A lack of support from an employer during a difficult time in an employee’s life can result in increased absences, reduced productivity, lower standards of work or even the employee exiting the organisation.
We have outlined below some steps which employers can take to help support impacted employees.
- Have a policy in place
In research carried out by the Miscarriage Association, managers and employees feel more comfortable when everyone’s rights and responsibilities are clear. Having a formal policy in place can send a clear message to employees that they will be supported and also help normalise what has historically been considered a taboo subject. It can encourage employees to speak to their employer about what they are going through without fear of being discriminated against, stigmatised, or judged.
- Offer time off
Many people, but not all, will need some time off work to recover physically and emotionally. Everyone is different; some will need a long time, while others choose to return to work reasonably quickly. In the UK, there is no legal entitlement to any leave or pay in circumstances where pregnancy loss occurs before 24 weeks and therefore policies regarding leave differ among workplaces.
In most cases, (outside of sickness absence) it is up to the discretion of the individual employer whether to offer compassionate leave, annual leave or unpaid leave in these circumstances. Where possible employers should offer some form of paid leave in order to support impacted employees.
In recent months many organisations have begun to introduce policies of paid leave for those who have suffered pregnancy and baby loss. For example, earlier this year Channel 4 announced that they will offer any employee who has been affected by a pregnancy loss two weeks’ full pay, regardless of their length of service. A number of other organisations have also announced similar policies including Monzo Bank, John Lewis and Co-op.
- Train your managers
It is important that your managers are trained in how to support employees who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss so they have the knowledge to respond appropriately and sensitively, explain what help the employer can provide and reassure the employee that they will not be disadvantaged if they want to take leave. Managers should ensure that they listen to the needs of each employee individually and are open and willing to have discussions about pregnancy and infant loss, ensuring confidentiality where requested by the employee.
The Miscarriage Association has created a useful guide for managers advice on how to discuss pregnancy loss with an employee. Similarly, Tommy’s has created a similar guide on how managers can support an employee after stillbirth.
- Supporting a return to work
For most employees, returning to work after pregnancy or infant loss can be incredibly challenging. Managers should agree a suitable time and date to check-in with an employee before they return to work and have regular follow up check-ins to review any support and make any necessary adjustments that an employee may need. These regular check-ins are particularly important when working remotely, as it can be harder to spot when an employee is suffering. Adjustments may include facilitating flexible working or offering the employee a phased return to work. Employers should establish support systems for those returning to work after pregnancy or infant loss, including putting in place buddy schemes and signposting to other sources of information and support, such as any employee assistance programmes offered.