The loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy can take an enormous mental and physical toll on women and birthing people and their partners.
We know that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth. Estimates suggest there are 250,000 miscarriages every year in the UK, and around 11,000 emergency admissions for ectopic pregnancies.
Yet currently, the UK doesn’t recognise these losses in the same way as stillbirth and neonatal death, which means families aren’t given automatic entitlement to paid leave.
For too long the stigma around discussing baby loss has left people struggling along at work, often with little or no accommodation for their needs at such a devastating time.
No one should have to worry for their job security and income on top of losing a baby.
No one should have to hide their loss or pretend that they are experiencing another form of illness to be able to take time off after a loss. Not only does this reinforce the taboo of baby loss but it can be hugely damaging in the long-term for people who may find themselves returning to work unable to speak honestly or seek help while grieving.
At present, many women and birthing people will use their sick leave to take time off after miscarriage because they either do not feel able to disclose their miscarriage or may be refused leave through lack of understanding about entitlements. Employers with no formal miscarriage leave provision may also be placing women in the dangerous situation of losing their baby while at work because they are not able to take leave or cannot afford to take leave unpaid.
In recent years we have seen fantastic progress in the number of employers who have introduced pregnancy, fertility and baby loss policies. Through our Pregnancy and Parenting at Work scheme, we’ve been helping organisations such as Bonnier Books, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust, Virgin Red, Santander and Bupa shape theirs.
But there are many more who do not have a baby loss policy, which means that employees do not have a clear sense of their rights and entitlements.
Current guidance can be confusing and it may even prevent employers from being able to support their employees in the way they would like. This lack of clarity may also affect women unequally – if policies are confused, women in precarious employment may be less likely to fight for their entitlement to leave after baby loss.
As one woman who lost her baby recently told us, “in the time it took for her HR dept to work out what the appropriate entitlements were under current guidance, check these and have them signed off, I could have just taken the time off I needed”. Despite working at a large and generally supportive organisation, by the time HR had been able to understand and communicate what she was entitled to it was too late.
Employers who do not have the same resources as larger organisations are in a difficult position: they may be compassionate and want to do the right thing but find it difficult or lack the resources to navigate the complex subject of baby loss quickly and in a way that helps their employee.
Introduced by Angela Crawley MP, the Miscarriage Leave Bill would ensure 3 days of paid bereavement leave for people who have experienced miscarriage. The Bill includes ectopic and molar pregnancies.
At Tommy’s we believe that a Miscarriage Leave Bill enshrined into law is vital but that it must be seen as a starting point for employers: for many people 3 days leave will not be enough time to provide for the physical or mental impact of miscarriage, and more will be needed.
Employers must be flexible, compassionate and understand that every person's circumstances and needs will be different.
Our Chief Executive Kath Abrahams says:
“If there is no legal requirement to give a minimum amount of miscarriage leave to those who need it the Government is relying on employers’ good will to grant leave, putting an extra burden on employers while too many women, birthing people and partners are suffering as a result.
“Flexibility is key. No two losses are the same, no two experiences of grief are the same, and baby loss policies must recognise that an employee’s needs may change over time.
“Tommy’s fully backs the introduction of the Miscarriage Leave Bill into law, but we also urge employers to recognise the devastating and complex impact of miscarriage in the way they deal with each individual employee experiencing loss. 3 days leave alone should not be considered a solution - it’s the first step.”