Supporting employees through pregnancy and baby loss
The importance of pregnancy and baby loss support in the workplace
The loss of a pregnancy or baby is one of the most distressing and traumatic events a person can go through. It can impact every aspect of a bereaved person’s life and can be an incredibly isolating experience, especially in the workplace where many still feel it is a taboo subject and don’t know how to respond to someone who has suffered a loss.
With so many people touched by pregnancy and infant loss suffering in silence in the workplace, it’s important for managers and employees to understand how to approach this incredibly sensitive subject with compassion.
Thoughtful support and management can make a real difference to a bereaved person’s wellbeing and there are many things a company can do to support bereaved parents and those impacted by the loss of a pregnancy or baby.
Here is a simple guide to help to support and lessen the isolation felt by anyone in the workplace who is impacted by pregnancy or baby loss.
Implement pregnancy and baby loss policies
Implementing a pregnancy loss policy and manager guidance will help to make it less of a taboo subject and may make it easier for anyone affected to feel they can ask for support.
Providing guidance and sign-posting support to everyone in the organisation will also help to raise awareness, remove any possible stigma, and ensure employees understand what support is available.
It’s important to consider including provisions that recognise the impact on partners of those who have suffered a miscarriage, still birth or baby death too.
Acknowledge the loss and avoid false comfort
Many people worry about saying the wrong thing to a bereaved parent and so may try to avoid the person or avoid mentioning the loss. There can be a fear that they could upset them further, but not acknowledging the loss increases the feeling of isolation and may make a bereaved person feel that the loss has been belittled. Although no one can take away the grief, simple acknowledgment of their loss will reduce the feeling of isolation.
We live in a culture where many have a compulsion to provide positive words and comfort in times of grief, but if the wrong words are used with the best intention, this could cause more upset and diminish the significance of the loss. It is best to avoid any ‘false comfort’ and instead simply say how sorry you are or that you don’t know what to say. Offering an open ear if they’d like to talk and sympathy for the trauma may be the greatest comfort. And if the parents gave their baby a name, it may be comforting to use the name and demonstrate that you empathise with their grief.
Ask what individuals need
Grief is a very personal experience and everyone’s experience will be different, so it’s important not to assume that every individual would like the same support. It’s important for managers to stay in touch with the employee but not to add pressure to return to work before they feel ready.
Ask them what they would like colleagues to know and if they would like you to send an email or share more information on their behalf. If the employee would like colleagues to know, sending flowers or a card from the team can help show support. Some parents may want to talk about their baby at work, but others will not, so asking these questions will hopefully help reduce some of the stress of a return to work.
It is also advisable to ask if there is anything you can do to make things easier for them, for example, waiving the requirement to call in everyday, or seeking confirmation from HR that sick leave will be recorded as pregnancy related.
Find out what support is available
Bereaved parents may not have any idea of their rights, and this may be the last thing they want to have to ask in the midst of their shock and grief, but they will need to know what they are entitled to in terms of leave and support. Employers need to have information readily available and ensure they know how to quickly access any policies and guidance, such as the organisation’s pregnancy and baby loss policy, sick leave and compassionate leave policies as well as any Employee Assistance Programme and wellbeing programmes.
A manager and employer should acknowledge that anyone suffering a loss will need time off work to recover physically and emotionally, some will need longer than others, and those who return quickly initially may need additional leave at a later date. So, knowing and sharing what they are entitled to will help the employee feel better supported.
Supporting a return to work?
A return-to-work meeting should be held by the employee’s manager as an opportunity to check how they’re doing and talk about any adjustments they might need. It’s also important to take into careful consideration the nature of the work and the impact this may have on them. For example, do they work with babies or very young children, do they have long shifts alone, do they work with, support or manage people who are in the same stage as pregnancy as they would have been.
Don’t forget to ask, ‘is there anything I can do to make your return to work easier?’. Hold regular check-ins to ensure you can monitor any signs of deterioration of their wellbeing. There may be times when they may need to take some time away from their workspace if overwhelmed by grief. Try to offer reassurance that it is OK to take time out when needed. They may find it helpful to speak to a colleague, phone family, a friend or a support helpline. As an organisation you should be providing the best possible support for a bereaved individual.
There is no time limit on grief
Remember that grief for the loss of a baby doesn’t end and although it may change over time, there will be times when it will be heightened, such as anniversaries, due dates or special occasions. It’s important to acknowledge that support may be required at these times and that there is no time limit on grief. Acknowledging a loss on the anniversary with a simple message could mean a lot to the bereaved person and show that you care and have not forgotten their loss.
Consider triggers in the workplace
There may be times where acute grief will be heightened by events in work. This could be a colleagues pregnancy announcement, a workplace baby shower, national celebrations like Mother’s and Father’s Day, or a visit from a parent bringing their baby to work. It’s important to acknowledge and offer support to members of your team who have suffered a loss and ask if there is anything they might need. It’s important to demonstrate that you recognise the tiggers to reduce feelings of isolation.
Employees’ rights to leave after a miscarriage
As of the 6th of April 2020, working parents who lose a child under the age of 18 or have a stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy have the right to take two weeks paid bereavement leave. Unfortunately, a tragic loss before 24 weeks isn’t included and is considered a sickness absence unless organisations have a specific policy in place. Regardless of the policy, managers need to be mindful that this is protected as a pregnancy related sickness, should be recorded separately and should not be used for any management process such as redundancy, disciplinary or absence.
There is no time limit on sickness absence after a miscarriage, if the GP or medical practitioner certified the sickness as pregnancy related, this applies for as long as the sick leave lasts. The employee will be entitled to any sick pay they are usually entitled to which should be included in their contract of employment. If an organisation allows, and an employee prefers, the manager may wish to apply their bereavement or compassionate policy to cover an absence due to pregnancy loss. It should be noted, and the employee made aware, that these policies may offer a shorter period of leave than recording an absence through the sickness policy.
Partners are not legally entitled to pregnancy related sickness absence even though they might be equally affected by the loss, so organisations may decide to offer compassionate leave or bereavement leave in this instance.
Parental bereavement leave for those who experience pregnancy loss after 24 weeks.
Parental bereavement legislation creates two distinct rights; time off and pay. Employees are entitled to 2 weeks parental bereavement leave which is a day one right, applicable from the beginning of employment. Employee’s also have the right to payment during parental bereavement leave and is subject to a length of service requirement, usually they need to have worked for the employer for 26 weeks on the Saturday before the child’s death, this is called statutory parental bereavement pay (SPBP). Employees can take up to two weeks parental bereavement leave with the minimum period being one week i.e. leave can be just one week, two consecutive weeks or two separate weeks. Parents who suffer the loss of more than one child are entitled to two weeks of leave in respect of each child, irrelevant as to whether the children died at the same time or not.
When can this leave be taken?
Parents can take the leave any time within the period of 56 weeks starting from the date of the child’s death or still birth, this allows employees to take the time around difficult periods such as the child’s birthday or the anniversary of their death. It’s also important to remember that employees who lose a baby after 24 weeks or during maternity leave will not lose their entitlements to maternity leave and pay.
These points are aimed to provide advice to managers and employers to help them to have the confidence to support an employee touched by pregnancy loss. It is very important to have policies, strategies and support already in place to ensure employees receive the correct help and advice from the beginning of their experience.
For further support for anyone affected by the information here, these pregnancy and baby loss charities provide invaluable support:
020 7436 5881 firstname.lastname@example.org sands.org.uk