Baby Loss Awareness Week is held every year in the UK from 9- 15 October and is a time for everyone to unite and commemorate the lives of babies lost in pregnancy or soon after birth.
Losing a baby is a distressing time for those involved and many are unwilling to share their experience with their families and friends, let alone their employer.
Baby Loss Awareness Week is therefore also an opportunity for employers to show their support for their employees who have suffered from baby loss and also to consider whether they have created a safe environment in which employees can discuss the same with them.
All the legal consequences of childbirth apply if a baby is lost after the 24th week of pregnancy.
The mother is therefore entitled to maternity leave and statutory maternity pay.
Partners may also be eligible for paternity leave. Employees could also be entitled to two weeks’ statutory parental bereavement leave and pay.
However, these rights do no apply if an employee suffers a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy (known as neonatal loss or a miscarriage).
As employees have limited legal rights, many employers are looking for other ways to support employees in these circumstances.
This could be offering enhanced leave and pay to allow employees to grieve regardless of the stage of the pregnancy that baby loss occurs and the option of a phased return to work or remote work.
Employers should also be sensitive to potential triggers such as Mother’s/Father’s day and new baby announcements and perhaps offer paid counselling or paid time off to attend counselling.
There are ways to remove the stigma around baby loss in the workplace and break the silence. For example, encouraging employees to talk about their experiences or asking experts to deliver webinars.
Many employees will not be comfortable to talk about their experience, but if employers allow a space for them to do so, it will make those affected feel more supported.
Baby loss is a deeply personal and difficult event and there is no timeline for grief and the employee may need ongoing support. There are plenty of charities to help support and increase understanding, such as Tommy's.
It is through education and training staff can engage in conversations with baby loss with confidence.
Employers may also wish to consider having a policy/guidance on baby loss which would include details of any enhanced leave and pay or counselling which the employer might consider offering, and should sign post where they can find further information and support.
Organisations may also want to consider naming someone from HR with whom the employee can confidentially share their experience, with that person having received particular training on dealing with such sensitive conversations. Having an explicit policy should help to empower employees to ask for support.
Approaching employees who have experienced baby loss with compassion is key and will go a long way. Employers who get this right recognise that employees will not return to work ‘fixed’ and will need to be treated with kindness and warmth.
It is important to remember that whenever a child or baby is lost, whether in pregnancy or birth, the loss is no less painful than any other bereavement.
Laura Tracey is employment partner at law firm Freeths