In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth. Pregnancy loss is heart-breaking and words simply cannot describe the impact it can have on a person. What can employers do to help their employees affected by such loss?
The legal rights and obligations
Employees who experience a miscarriage (the loss of a baby during the first 23 weeks of pregnancy) which leads to a period of sickness absence are entitled to the same statutory or company sick pay as they would receive for any other sickness absence. Their partners may be entitled to a reasonable period of to “provide assistance when a dependant falls ill” (i.e. the right to time off for dependants).
Employees who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or whose baby dies after birth, are entitled to take statutory parental bereavement leave. This is a right to take up to two weeks off work at any point during the 56 weeks after the stillbirth or death. Employees and their partners are also entitled to their full period of statutory maternity and paternity leave (with statutory maternity/paternity pay) and again, partners are also likely to have the right to time off for dependants.
What additional support could be offered?
Many have argued for a long time that these legal rights and obligations are just not enough to properly support employees. Any employer wishing to offer more support to its employees could begin by implementing a pregnancy loss policy. Such a policy can not only help to ensure people feel more able to ask for support, but can help break the taboo surrounding the subject by promoting a positive workplace culture.
A pregnancy loss policy might contain:
- The purpose of the document, why it is important and more information about the types of loss included in the policy.
- Information on how managers can offer practical and emotional support.
- Links to other support.
An employer may also wish to use the policy to remove the uncertainty and worry that can be created for employees when they do not know how their employer will exercise its discretion for example, when deciding how much compassionate leave will be given. It may therefore offer additional rights such as a minimum period of paid compassionate leave, extended paid bereavement leave and paid leave to support attendance at appointments including counselling.
The risk assessment and return to work process should also be considered and adjustments including a phased return to work, additional breaks and easy access to toilets should be highlighted as possibilities which will help staff to feel more comfortable as they prepare to return.
However, arguably the most important point the policy should make clear is that the employer will never assume it knows how pregnancy loss has affected any one person and it will have as much communication with anyone affected as that person wishes to have in order to better understand their circumstances and provide the most appropriate support required.
If you would like to learn more about pregnancy loss policies or would like help with or advice about any other employment law related matter contact a member of the Blackadders Employment Team working in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and across Scotland.
Donna Reynolds, Partner
Accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a Specialist in Employment Law & Discrimination Law
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