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Pregnancy loss and the workplace – what are your rights?

It’s time to talk about pregnancy loss and fertility problems at work

This is the first in a three part series of blogs related to pregnancy loss and fertility problems, issues which in our view are not acknowledged or addressed enough as workplace issues.

It is estimated that one in four pregnancies in the UK end in loss either during pregnancy or birth, so it is likely we all know someone who has experienced this type of grief or it may be something that you yourself have experienced. Although pregnancy loss is surprisingly common, losing a baby through miscarriage is still quite a taboo topic. Many women wait until around the 12 week mark to announce a pregnancy, and as the majority of miscarriages happen during the first 12 weeks, it is something that is not talked about at all, including in the workplace.

Last week it was reported that Monzo had introduced a new policy to provide employees 10 days of paid leave for pregnancy loss. Crucially this will apply regardless of when in the pregnancy it happens and will apply in the event of abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth. It also covers either partner ‘recognising that pregnancy loss doesn’t just affect women or heterosexual couples’. This follows an announcement made by Channel 4 in April 2021 that they had launched their own pregnancy loss policy to support employees affected by pregnancy loss ‘regardless of the nature of their loss, and whatever their length of service’, Channel 4 have published their policy and made clear their commitment to end the stigma around women’s health issues. These are really forward thinking policies which only a few companies have introduced, but hopefully more will follow suit. Asking for help and support in these situations is hard, so to have your employer saying that it’s there for you without having to ask is really important.

If the company you work for does not have a policy about pregnancy loss, what rights do you have?

Despite the lack of legal developments in this area, in the event of pregnancy loss there are a number of rights and protections that exist. Your right to time off and/or pay following pregnancy loss will vary depending on what stage you reach, whether that be during pregnancy, during birth or shortly after.

  1. If you have suffered a miscarriage before the end of the 24th week of pregnancy then you have limited protection. Your employer may agree to a period of compassionate, annual or unpaid leave, and if you are not well enough to work you are entitled to take sick leave. If your GP signs you off with pregnancy related sickness following a miscarriage then it would be discriminatory (s.18 Equality Act) for your employer to use this period of absence against you e.g. for the purposes of redundancy. However, this does mean that you need to tell your employer about your miscarriage. The same goes for your partner.
  2. If your baby is stillborn after the end of the 24th week of pregnancy then you are entitled to the maternity leave and pay you qualify for, and similarly your partner will be entitled to any paternity leave and pay they qualify for.
  3. In the case of neonatal death (where a baby dies in the first 28 days of life) then you are entitled to the maternity leave and pay that you qualify for, and similarly your partner will be entitled to any paternity leave and pay they qualify for.
  4. In addition, where a baby is stillborn after the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, or in the event a child dies under the age of 18, eligible parents also now have the right to parental bereavement leave and pay. More information about eligibility and what this means for parents can be found on the ACAS website.

If you have suffered pregnancy loss and need support there are a number of organisation out there to help, a few examples include: The Miscarriage Association, Tommy’s, and Sands.

What should employers do to support employees who have been affected by pregnancy loss?

Ethical employers should be looking to introduce their own policies about pregnancy loss. Having a written framework available to employees on this topic will encourage them to speak to their line managers/HR and get the support they need. The impact of pregnancy loss both on physical and mental health should not be underestimated by employers. If you have an employee who has taken time off for pregnancy loss it is important to listen to their needs in order to support them back into the workplace, for example they may need to attend further medical appointments, in addition you should talk to your employee about whether they would like their colleagues to know, and if they do, help communicate this information.

If you are an individual wanting more information about your rights in respect of this area, or an employer wanting to introduce a pregnancy loss policy call 0808 252 5231 to speak to one of our Employment Law specialists to find out how we can help.

The next blog in this series will focus on workplace issues related to IVF and those undergoing fertility treatments and will be published in mid-June.

If you are having issues at work relating to pregnancy, maternity and redundancy please read our previous blog ‘Out of sight out of mind – pregnancy, maternity and redundancy during Covid-19’.