Pregnancy Loss – How HR Can Support Employees

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Pregnancy loss
Photo Credits - Sasha via Unsplash

Loss of any kind can be heartbreaking and traumatic—especially the loss of a child. According to the NHS, about 1 in 8 pregnancies end in miscarriage. The worst part is the parents could be doing everything right, but they could still lose their baby. In fact, it can even happen before a woman is even aware she is pregnant.

Recently, CIPD found that while most companies do have policies and support groups for parents who miscarry, it only comes up to about 24%. That is just a quarter of the decision-makers who actively encourage such support in the workplace. According to the CIPD report, 13% of the decision-makers say they do not have an open climate and the rest say they somewhat do.

This is quite eye-opening considering how many parents face pregnancy-related issues. These issues can range from fertility issues, miscarriages and even stillborn babies. In light of the report revealing such stats, the question is— what can HR do to create an open environment?

The Current Scenario – Are Miscarriages Included in Organisation Policies?

It would be unfair to say that most organisations do not support their employees at all. UK employment law does offer protection to parents who miscarry under bereavement leave. Even women are entitled to maternity leave if they lose their baby after 24 weeks. Additionally, a leave occurring due to a miscarriage is not considered sick leave.

However, there is still a need for miscarriage rules for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, to cover the period before 24 weeks. At present, there is no rule that makes employees entitled to maternity leave should they miscarry before 24 weeks.

Secondly, to reduce the pressure to return to work. An employee surveyed by CIPD said she had low days three months after her miscarriage. Keep in mind that The Equality Act, 2010 does have a “protected period”, but that is only 2 weeks after the pregnancy ends.

Another reason why miscarriages, and more importantly, the awareness regarding miscarriages is important is for enhanced support. This does not have to be financial but also emotional support. Employees surveyed by CIPD mentioned that support from their employer and line manager would be the most beneficial during such trying times.

The CIPD survey revealed that only one in ten organisations have policies solely dedicated to pregnancy loss. Close to 27% of organisations surveyed by CIPD said only included these issues in wider policies and not as standalone. This is slightly disappointing considering that families will have to go through these policies time and again to find where they stand. This itself can be taxing, coupled with their trauma, and struggling mental health.

How HR and Organisations Can Improve

Opening Lines of Communication

When it comes to talking about pregnancy loss and fertility issues, the ball is in the employee’s court. The CIPD report finds that while half of the surveyed employees did inform their manager, close to 24% didn’t. Upon further investigation, out of the 24%, a majority of the surveyed employees didn’t tell their manager because it was a private matter. Some, around 19%, even felt it can impact their career.

It is imperative that this mindset be changed by creating more awareness around pregnancy loss and fertility issues. The stigma around these topics will only decrease if decision-makers of the company take a step towards spreading awareness. This will not only educate employees on how to deal with these matters sensitively but may create a safe space for affected employees to share their stories.

Updating or Creating Pregnancy Loss Policies

As mentioned in the CIPD report, only one in ten surveyed organisations had standalone policies for pregnancy loss. This calls for a rapid change in many organisations that, at the time, only cover pregnancy loss in wider policies.

The main reason behind creating clear policies on this is to make it easier for the employee. Knowing what they are entitled to for a specific situation will make this time less stressful.  Policies around the subject would have to keep changing as these situations are tailored to each individual.

This is where making reasonable adjustments based on the situation comes into the picture. Allowing employees paid time off for counselling sessions, reducing pressure to return to work, and allowing paid days off that do not come out of their sick days are just a few examples of reasonable adjustments.

Another adjustment, and one that is most needed, is paid time off for miscarriage before 24 weeks. Since post-24 weeks can be covered by maternity leave, any incident before this time period needs urgent attention.

Practising Compassion and Empathy

It goes without saying that everyone in the business needs to understand the sensitivity of the situation. As a decision maker in the organisation, take the time to reflect on whether the current policies are enough. Encourage employees to support one another in whatever way support is needed —be it a few kind words or a helping hand.

It is also important to remember that forcing anything, including sympathy, may not be appreciated. Some employees may not want to think about it at the workplace, while some would want to be around their friends in the office. It is best to make it clear that an open conversation about adjustments and expectations during this time is welcome.

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