Supporting an employee before, during and after a loss
Thoughtful support and management can make a real difference to how people cope with miscarriage*, ectopic or molar pregnancy.
We hope the information on this page helps you to offer the right support at the right time.
* We often use the term ‘miscarriage’ to include miscarriage, ectopic and molar pregnancy. If a baby is stillborn after 24 weeks gestation, the law and an employee’s rights are very different. Maternity Action has more information. All our information covers UK law and practices only.
Creating a supportive environment
These are things you and your organisation can do now to make it easier for you and any member of your workforce or team if and when they experience a loss.
Start by asking yourself some questions.
- What do you need to know to offer support? Have a look at our information on miscarriage.
- Are you familiar with your organisation’s sick leave and compassionate leave policies? Do they have a miscarriage policy?
- Does your organisation have Wellness Action Plans to support employees’ wellbeing?
- If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, does it include support around pregnancy loss?
Encourage your organisation to create a miscarriage policy if they do not have one. There’s more information on how to create a miscarriage policy here.
Learn what other organisations have done to support employees affected by pregnancy loss or other maternity/fertility issues. In this vlog, Joanna explains how her company’s attitudes to staff wellbeing and assistance were hugely beneficial.
Ask for training. The more people who ask for it, the more likely it is to happen. We have more information about running training and awareness events here.
[My boss] only ever paid lip service to the important parts of management where you actually get to know and support your team members and instead was very focussed on processes and getting tasks done. This made me feel like I couldn’t approach her and played a part in my decision to resign that role when the restructure coincided with my wife’s miscarriage.
Supporting employees during and immediately after a miscarriage
Employees may not wish to tell you what is happening. They may be embarrassed, prefer to keep things private or be worried about potential discrimination. Once you are aware of a loss, it’s important to acknowledge it and say you’re sorry. Our information on talking about miscarriage in the workplace may help.
At an appropriate point, ask them what they need – but be aware that they may not know immediately.
The experience of miscarriage can be different for everyone. This is particularly important to remember if you have experienced a loss yourself. Some parts of their experience may be similar but try not to assume it will be exactly the same.
People who experience more than one loss often tell us that they tend to get less support each time. But this is often when they need it most. It might help to have a look at our information on recurrent miscarriage.
In the beginning I had great support – no problem with time off and received general understanding. However by my fourth loss, patience had run out. By this point my mental health suffered enormously. In the end I had to leave my job.
A miscarriage at work
A woman who begins to miscarry at work may have one or more of these symptoms:
- bleeding, which may be very heavy,
- abdominal pain which may be severe, and/or
- feeling faint or even collapsing (this is most likely with an ectopic pregnancy which can be life-threatening).
She is likely to be upset, scared and embarrassed. She will need privacy, support and access to a toilet. She may need something to wrap around herself if she is bleeding heavily. She is likely to appreciate a taxi home or to hospital and someone to go with her or to call her partner (ask her what she would like). If she is very unwell, you may need to call an ambulance.
Reassure her that you will cover any work as needed. Until you know what she wants to share, it may help to send a general email to colleagues – for example, ‘X has had to leave to deal with an emergency. We will let you know when she will be back at work but in the meantime, please pass on any work queries to Y’.
Someone who finds out that his or her partner is miscarrying is likely to want to leave work as soon as possible.
Time off for employees after a miscarriage
Many people, but not all, will need some time off work to recover physically and emotionally. Some will need a long time, while others choose to return to work reasonably quickly. Someone who returns to work after a short absence may need further leave at a later date.
Sometimes the physical recovery can take a long time, sometimes it can be emotional and/or mental health difficulties that are harder to cope with.
I texted my boss to let her know what had happened. She replied simply with, ‘I’m here if you need anything. Please don’t give work another thought’.
Rights to leave after a miscarriage
Sickness absence after a miscarriage is protected as pregnancy-related sickness. It should be recorded separately and should not be used against her, for example, for disciplinary or redundancy purposes or as part of an appraisal.
Your employee is able to self certify for up to 7 days as usual. This includes self-certification that the absence is pregnancy-related. After 7 days, she will need to get a fit note from her GP or another medical professional. She may want to ask her GP to backdate a fit note to confirm that the leave is pregnancy-related. During the coronavirus pandemic, she may not be able to get a fit note immediately. If possible, allow her to self-certify until this can be obtained and backdated.
There is no time limit on sickness absence after a miscarriage. If a GP or medical practitioner has certified the sickness as pregnancy-related, this applies for as long as the sick leave lasts.
She will be entitled to any sick pay she is usually entitled to. Check your sickness absence policy for more details.
If your policies allow, and your employee prefers, you may wish to apply your bereavement or compassionate leave policies to cover an absence due to pregnancy loss. It should be noted, and the employee made aware, that these policies may offer a shorter period of leave than recording an absence through the sickness policy.
Partners are not legally entitled to pregnancy-related sickness absence, even though they might be equally affected by the loss. You might offer compassionate or bereavement leave in this instance.
While/if they are off work
Stay in touch – but try not to add pressure to return to work before they feel ready.
Send them our information for employees – they are likely to appreciate it even if they have already seen it
Ask them what they would like colleagues to know and if they would like you to send an email or share more information.
Send flowers from the team or sign a card, such as these ones from the Miscarriage Association (if they are happy for colleagues to know).
Ask whether there is anything you can do to make things easier for them – for example waiving a requirement to call in every day or seeking confirmation from HR that sick leave will be recorded as pregnancy-related.
Supporting their return to work
Returning to work after a miscarriage can be overwhelming. They may feel anxious about what colleagues will say or uncertain about returning to ‘normal’ life while no longer pregnant.
Before my return, my manager met me for lunch and took me into the workplace so I did not feel overwhelmed.
These actions may make things easier for them.
Check whether they feel totally ready to return to work. Some people want to come back quite quickly whereas, for others, it’s only when they return to work that they realise they need more time.
Send an email to colleagues before their return (if appropriate). You may want to ask if she wants to draft it herself or whether she would like to check it over first.
Some people find a phased return helpful. Their GP may recommend this in their fit note.
A ‘return to work’ meeting is an opportunity to check how they are doing and talk about any adjustments they need. Have a look at our information on talking about miscarriage in the workplace.
It may help to use a Wellness Action Plan to help guide the conversation and ensure their needs are recorded.
Think about the nature of the work and the impact that might have on them. For example:
- Do they work with babies or very young children?
- Do they have long shifts alone?
- Do they work with/support or manage people who are in the same stage of pregnancy as the would have been?
- Do they have easy access to a toilet to manage any bleeding?
Is there anything you can do to make things easier?
I am a crime scene examiner and was sent to a cot death shortly after my return. This was thoughtless and upsetting as I felt I couldn’t refuse but didn’t want to go.
You may need to make some allowances for performance over the first few weeks and months back at work.
Some people move on quickly from their initial sadness and regret whereas others experience intense grief that can last for weeks or months. Don’t expect her to feel totally fine as soon as she is back at work. It usually takes some time.
I had a mobile role and the week of my return they sent me to the hospital where I had my miscarriage. I was also sent to places an hour away from home, this was very difficult and made my initial days back very long. I ended up handing in my notice the first week back as I couldn’t cope with it.
Miscarriage isn’t always easy to leave in the past (although sometimes it can be). Feelings of grief, anger, jealousy, guilt or just an overwhelming sadness can come sometimes without warning, long after the miscarriage itself.
Here are some things to be aware of.
Important dates (such as due dates or the anniversary of the loss) can be difficult. If you can, check-in with them and see if you can help make things easier. Often just remembering and recognising the date can help.
The return of menstruation (usually 4-6 weeks after a miscarriage) and attendant hormonal changes can be a difficult time for many women.
Pregnancy announcements and pregnant colleagues may make things harder. Have a look at this example of good practice where a manager is sensitive to this. If possible, it may help to warn them before someone sends out a pregnancy announcement via email.
Some women prefer to get on with things and find it frustrating if people tiptoe around certain topics when with them. If you’re not sure what they would prefer, ask them.
Pregnancy after a miscarriage can be a very anxious time. It may help to read our information on pregnancy after a loss and to be aware they may have additional appointments and scans during that pregnancy. During the coronavirus pandemic they may be advised to self-isolate.
A very high level of psychological stress may be associated with an increased likelihood of miscarriage. More research is needed but an employee who is trying to conceive or is pregnant after a previous loss may find it helpful to look at ways they can reduce stress at work.
Recurrent miscarriage may cause long-term emotional stress that can affect their mental and physical health. They may need additional support and time off for investigations and treatment. It’s important to continue to offer the same level of support throughout. You may find it helpful to have a look at our information on recurrent loss.
Make sure you check in regularly – perhaps at one to one sessions to see whether they need any further support.
Some workplaces offer to fundraise or support people to raise funds for a charity related to their loss. This can mean a lot to people but it’s important to check with them whether this is something they would be comfortable with.
When a colleague was going on maternity leave, their last day in the office was coming up and rightly so, everyone was making a fuss. I asked if I could work from home that day which was agreed, so I could manage my emotions around how that made me feel and avoid a situation that I would potentially find upsetting.
 Qu F, Wu Y, Zhu YH, et al. The association between psychological stress and miscarriage: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):1731. Published 2017 May 11. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01792-3