The Miscarriage Association is urging employers to offer better support to staff going through pregnancy loss after research showed that almost half of those affected feel forced to return to work before they are ready.
Our survey of over 600 people affected by pregnancy loss revealed that 49 per cent were not told about or offered pregnancy-protected leave, which meant many took less time out than they felt they needed. In some cases, their sick leave record was impacted, with several subsequently facing disciplinary action.
Many employees felt unable to talk to their managers about their loss for fear of discrimination, with some women even continuing to work whilst losing their baby.
More than a third of respondents (40%) felt a lack of support meant the standard of their work suffered after going back to their jobs while 11% ultimately ended up leaving their roles. Many other respondents reported that they were given time off but did not receive full pay so had to return before they were ready.
With no official guidance in place around miscarriage and the workplace, the survey also showed that even compassionate employers sometimes struggle to know how best to offer support. Over 75 per cent of respondents said they would welcome a specific miscarriage policy in the workplace.
In response, we have created a free Miscarriage and the Workplace resource hub with information about rights and responsibilities, good practice, suggestions on how best to talk about miscarriage in the workplace, information for HR and a template miscarriage policy. It also includes details on how to support partners.
Sally Thompson, from Liverpool, has experienced nine pregnancy losses. Having taken a short amount of time away from work after her sixth, an ectopic pregnancy, she found herself struggling. She shares her experience:
I would drive to work and sit in the car sobbing because I could not face going in. I eventually told my manager that I had come back too soon and my mental health was suffering. He showed no sympathy and simply stated that I had annual leave booked off soon for my wedding so couldn’t go off sick before then. Now I was back, it would be counted as two separate absences, and that ‘wouldn’t look good’. So I went in every day for three weeks, sat at my desk with physical shakes because my anxiety was so debilitating.
Faye Dawson, from Leeds, has had two miscarriages and told us:
I went into work having a miscarriage, because I thought that’s what you did. I went to see my manager and he said ‘I’m really impressed with how you’re dealing with it’ – but I wasn’t dealing with it at all. When I returned to work I had to sign a sick form and it said I was off with migraine, which really upset me. A miscarriage policy would be hugely beneficial; it’s a support for the manager and it’s a support for the person that’s suffering as well.
Donna Williams, from Cardiff, has had three miscarriages and comments:
My direct manager was absolutely amazing while I was off. He gave me space, allowed me all the time off that I thought I needed and was there to support me. However, while my manager was great, what was happening to me was almost treated like office gossip by my colleagues. There was a complete lack of understanding that I had lost my baby and that I was waiting for an operation and going through a very traumatic time. I was seen as being ‘off sick’ rather than going through a grieving process and when I did come back there were comments like ‘enjoyed your time off?’ which was incredibly insensitive.
More stories of miscarriage and the workplace can be found here.
Ruth Bender Atik, National Director of the Miscarriage Association, says:
For many people, miscarriage is the loss of a baby, however early it happens. Thoughtful support and management can make a real difference to how people cope – and can enhance an employee’s motivation and commitment. A lack of support can mean reduced productivity, lower standards of work, increased absence and even resignation. But many employees don’t know their rights and employers rarely have policies in place to help. Managers are not always clear on their responsibilities and colleagues may not know what to say. We have created this resource hub to help everyone involved.
The Miscarriage and the Workplace resource hub is free to access via the Miscarriage Association’s website at www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/workplace