Little to no protections, either for women or their partners, are afforded by current employment law. How can employers adapt to be more sensitive to the needs of expecting parents and those who’ve miscarried? And is it time for policy reform?
Hannah Mahon, partner at GQ | Littler, says:
"Miscarriage before the 24th week of pregnancy is not legally considered ‘childbirth’, meaning employees have no rights to leave or pay under maternity legislation.
"However, an employee is protected from discrimination. Often this will be pregnancy/maternity discrimination. The employee is protected from unfavourable treatment until two weeks after the pregnancy ends. Beyond this period employers are potentially at risk of sex or disability discrimination claims.
"Unfortunately proposed reforms such as the Employment Bill, neonatal leave and parental bereavement leave do not directly enhance protection here.
"Employers should be sensitive. Absence following miscarriage should be treated in the same way as pregnancy-related sickness, and leniency should be used when applying absence management policies. Employers can also address this in compassionate leave policies and/or offer additional leave (paid or unpaid).
"If an employee’s partner suffers early miscarriage they may be entitled to unpaid leave as a dependent."
Tom Bourne, professor of practice (gynaecology) at Imperial College London, says:
"Our paper shows 20% will have post-traumatic stress almost a year after a miscarriage so employers should be aware of the symptoms of PTSD and be alert to these in women after miscarriage. Post-traumatic stress requires specific treatment and women should be given time for this, while employers may consider helping financially to provide it.
"In the event of stillbirth women can claim maternity leave but for miscarriage this is not the case. This ‘all or nothing’ approach is unreasonable given that our work shows losing a baby is hugely traumatic irrespective of gestation.
"The law should be changed to allow time for women to receive treatment and come to terms with their loss."
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, says:
"Specific clinical services are needed to support women who have PTSD as a result of early-stage pregnancy loss, but employers also have a role in supporting the mental wellbeing of their people.
"Line managers in particular play a key role in providing support to their teams, and in developing a positive culture that enables people to open up to them. It is important that managers are able to act when they know someone is struggling, and can signpost team members to the support the organisation provides.
"Access to comprehensive occupational health is particularly important."
This piece appeared in the February 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk
Read the first part of this hot topic