As Baby Loss Awareness Week begins, we discuss the importance of having a miscarriage policy in the workplace.
This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week which brings together anyone whose life has been touched by pregnancy and miscarriage. This year’s theme is wellbeing and focuses on raising awareness of how people affected by pregnancy and baby loss can look after themselves and others around them.
More than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and probably around a quarter of a million happen in the UK each year, according to the Miscarriage Association. Although the majority of miscarriages happen in the first three months (13 weeks) of pregnancy, they can happen up to the 24th week. However, the UK does not offer paid leave to those workers affected by a miscarriage in that period.
At the moment, parents can get up to two weeks of paid leave – at £151.97 per week or 90% of their average earnings if that is less – for the loss of a baby after 24 weeks, under legislation introduced by the government in April 2020.
In September a call was made in parliament by SNP MP Angela Crawley to extend paid parental leave for miscarriage to the period before the 24th week. The new policy would allow women who have miscarried and their partner to have up to three days of paid leave.
“I think often, sadly, this is seen as a women’s issue and there’s a stigma and shame attached to the experience of miscarriage and I do not believe that should be the case in this day and age,” she says.
“This is an issue that affects both parents when they undergo that loss and to have the right to grieve and the right to have that paid and recognised by their employer is an important milestone.”
When she had her first miscarriage, Emma Kangis was working as a consultant and at the time decided not to disclose the information to the company she was working with. She says: “It wasn’t really the environment where I would have felt comfortable telling them what was happening. I think there are some cultures within organisations where you would feel comfortable, but I didn’t.”
She adds: “I kept it secret, which I found really hard because when you go back into work, you are feeling utterly awful and not just emotionally, but physically too.”
In her case, being a freelancer allowed her to have control over her work schedule. “I was very grateful that I was in that position because if I had been an employee, I think I would have found that really difficult because I’m not sure that they had any policy in place at all and I feel as though they wouldn’t really know what to have done,” she says.
Vicky Robinson, Deputy Director at The Miscarriage Association, explains: “At the moment, there is no legal entitlement to anything other than sick leave. So, they’re entitled, as anyone would be, to take their sick leave […] but it very much all depends on companies and their sickness policy as to whether employees qualify for any paid entitlement or not.”
The lack of policies in the workplace at a national level means that it is up to individual employers to decide on how to handle the situation.
In Kangis’ case, she found herself in a more understanding and safe environment during her later miscarriages when working for a different company. Once things started to go wrong with her third pregnancy Kangis recalls calling in sick to work and explaining what had happened.
“My boss at the time was just amazing, she just said to me ‘you don’t need to come in, you come back when you feel like it,’ she didn’t expect me to explain anything,” Kangis says. “She just said ‘you take some time out, go home and rest,’ and that was amazing because it was one less thing I had to think about because all you’re thinking about is what has just happened in the hospital.”
Often, couples do take sick leave, but it depends on each company’s policies at to whether they qualify for it or not. However, experts argue that women and their partners should not have to rely on luck when it comes to pregnancy-related issues and having stability and knowing that there is a support system in place can make a big difference when it comes to how they overcome them.
Some companies have already gone further than the three days paid leave that Crawley is campaigning for by offering their employees paid leave for between seven and 14 days. Last week, online retailer ASOS announced new policies, which include the right to 10 days paid leave in the event of a miscarriage.
Crawley says: “This is a welcome move and I hope many more employers will replicate that. For employees, this compassion and recognition of the loss and grief that comes with a miscarriage makes it easier for parents to approach their employer as they already know there are support mechanisms in place.”
Miscarriages have both physical and psychological consequences and being able to tell someone what they are going through can be critical for their wellbeing.
Recalling her miscarriage experiences Kangis [pictured right] says: “My first miscarriage was very early on and wasn’t quite as painful and I didn’t bleed for as long, but the subsequent miscarriages happened later in the pregnancy and they were painful and I bled for quite some time. It was a constant reminder of what was happening and I was feeling horrendous and very upset.”
She adds: “It’s also because physically you feel it and obviously when you bleed a lot, it’s just a constant reminder that your body’s getting rid of everything to do with that pregnancy, so, I found that really hard.”
Despite paid leave being crucial, there are many other ways that employers can support workers who are dealing with a miscarriage. In some cases there is a misconception that because miscarriages can happen early on in a pregnancy the impact is not as a devastating for the couple.
“You start imagining being pregnant and you work out the due date and all of these things go past your mind in a flash, and you want to celebrate,” says Kangis. “But then when you find out that it’s all gone wrong, I always describe it as I felt like I had smashed into a wall and all the pieces of me were just everywhere, and I had to then pick them all up again and build myself back together before I could even try and go back to work.”
Similar to any other grieving process, the physical and mental pain does not necessarily end simultaneously. Indeed, the support should not stop after those three days of leave.
Kangis explains: “When an individual goes back into work, they need to know that the support is still there. So if the following week they have a moment where they just can’t cope with being at work, they become overwhelmed with their experience, with their thoughts and they just need to go home and they should be allowed to do so.”
After having had four miscarriages, Kangis and her partner had their first child, and following two other miscarriages, they had their second child. However, having a supportive employer has contributed towards Kangis’ wellbeing and decreased work-related stress during those difficult times.
Knowing that work does not have to be their number one priority will allow couples to focus on their healing first. It is common for a woman to experience multiple miscarriages and the fear of not knowing when they might get pregnant again, mixed with the experience they have just gone through, can lead to depression and increased anxiety as well.
Experts argue that having an employee in distress will not benefit either them or the company as they will not be able to focus on their job or perform at their best as they are already spending much of their energy on their recovery.
Providing a safe and understanding working environment for couples who have experienced a miscarriage plays an important role in talent retention. Indeed, if an employee is not supported and feels overwhelmed by their job, it will definitely increase their chances of quitting.
Also, whilst it is understandable that a certain structure needs to exist in a company, allowing some flexibility for each person will help too.
Having a prepared and trained team helps employers know how to best support someone in this situation. The Miscarriage Association is one of the non-profit organisations that shares online resources for employers to learn more about miscarriages and provide a better workplace for their employees.
Kangis also suggests offering everything from targeted therapy and the time for it to work to something as simple as providing leaflets or online resources. Petals is one of the charities that specialises in miscarriages and offers six funded counselling sessions.
Despite one in four women experiencing a miscarriage in their lifetime, the topic is still perceived as taboo by some and underestimated in many working environments.
Whilst it is more common now for women to state that they have experienced a miscarriage, there is less awareness of what people actually experience or what the healing process is like.
It is important for employers to not only have a miscarriage policy in the workplace, but also create an open environment where it is possible to speak about miscarriages.That would help employees feel more understood and less anxious or guilty about needing to take time off.
Robinson says: “I think as a society we’re not very good at talking about miscarriage and that also means that people don’t talk about it or when they phone in sick to work, they might say something else and it can be a really lonely and isolating experience for people.”
She adds: “We want to normalise talking about miscarriage and recognise that it is a significant life event and it can be really difficult, distressing and often quite traumatic for people. We want as a society to acknowledge that and then be better at speaking about it so that people feel they don’t have to go through it alone.”
Raising awareness would also mean understanding the anxieties a couple might be experiencing if they get pregnant again and also their need to attend many appointments.
At the same time, it is understandable that not everyone feels comfortable sharing their experience. Robinson says: “We want it to be a person’s individual choice. We don’t want people to have to talk about what happened to them if they don’t want to.”
“But, the more people who feel able to talk about miscarriage, the more it will become a normal thing that society recognises and that people understand and have empathy for,” she adds.
Kangis also shares Robinson’s opinion and uses her personal experience as a way to raise awareness and let people who have had miscarriages feel less lonely. She says: “I’m very open with talking about it, because I don’t think it needs to be something that’s hidden or shied away from […] and I think, with something like this, the fact that I know exactly how a woman and their partner feels makes it so important to share my experience.”