Talking about miscarriage in the workplace: a guide for employers and managers
It can feel uncomfortable to talk about miscarriage, ectopic and molar pregnancy in the workplace and with people you may not know well. It is a deeply personal experience. But it’s important to acknowledge what has happened and say you’re sorry for their loss.
Miscarriage* affects women – and their partners – in many different ways. As a manager or employer, you are more likely to understand what they need if you can talk sensitively and listen carefully to what they choose to share. Even if you’ve had a miscarriage yourself, their experience may be very different. These suggestions may help.
You don’t need to have all of the answers and I don’t think that’s what people would expect. I think it’s about knowing what questions to ask – asking them what they feel would help them at this time, rather than presume.
* 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.
Listening and responding
The way you listen and respond will affect how much they tell you and how comfortable they feel about further disclosure.
Ask simple, open questions. Let them explain in their own words. Give them time and be prepared for some silences.
Don’t interrupt or impose your opinions or ideas.
Show empathy and understanding. Don’t make assumptions about what they’re experiencing or try and guess how it will affect their work.
Follow their lead in terms of the language they use to describe their loss. For example, some people say ‘pregnancy’ whereas others prefer to use ‘baby’.
Offer comfort and support. The most important thing you can do is to acknowledge what has happened. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or profound.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“This must be really hard, I’m so sorry.”
“Please let me know if there is anything you need.”
“I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
These are some things you might think would help – but usually don’t. They tend to be things that try to ‘look on the bright side’ or start with ‘at least’. Most people feel this diminishes the importance of this loss and this baby.
“You can always try again.”
“At least it was early on.”
“At least you can get pregnant.”
“It was probably for the best.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
People who experience multiple miscarriages tell us they tend to get less support from friends and colleagues each time. This is often when they need it most. You might find it useful to look at our information on recurrent miscarriage to help you understand.
If you’re not sure how to start a conversation about miscarriage, use these questions to get you started.
During and immediately after a loss
How are you feeling?
What do you feel would help you right now?
What, if anything, would you like colleagues/the team to know?
Do you need any time off work?
Is there anything you need me to find cover for so you are not worrying while you are off?
How would you like me to keep in touch while you are away?
What other support do you have?
Have you seen the Miscarriage Association’s information on miscarriage and the workplace/our miscarriage policy?
Have you seen any of the Miscarriage Association’s information or support?
Returning to work
Is there anything I/we can do to make coming back to work easier for you?
Would you like to meet up before coming back?
Is there anything you are worried about?
What kind of support do you think might help if you become upset or tearful at work?
Would you like me to tell/email colleagues about your return? Would you like to draft an email yourself or check what I write?
Follow up support
How are you feeling at the moment?
Are the adjustments we have in place working for you?
Is there anything further we can do to help?
Ask your employee what, if anything, they would like to share with colleagues. They have a right to keep a miscarriage private if they choose. Respect their wishes. If you have to tell someone (for example, in HR) ask how they would like it to be communicated.
I told my line manager but didn’t want to tell my colleagues, as I didn’t want to be judged and didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or treat me differently.
Offering options and sharing information
It’s important to share any relevant information or policies with your employee. Choose a time when they’re not too emotional to take in the information. It might also help to print off the policy and talk it through together.
Make sure they know who else they can talk to – and share any details of workplace counselling, occupational health or other support. If they have not heard of the Miscarriage Association, it may help to give our details too.
Check they are okay and ask what they would like to happen next.
Put another catch-up in the calendar, but let them know they can come to you in the meantime if they need to. If they need to talk, give them your full attention.
Make sure they understand what you’ll be doing next (if anything). Follow up in writing. Your email should be reassuring and easy to understand.
You probably already ask your employees how they are doing as a regular part of your one-to-one conversations. This is particularly important when an employee has experienced a loss.
The creation of a new miscarriage policy (or the addition of information to an existing policy) can be a good time to start a wider conversation about miscarriage in your organisation. This can help reduce stigma and encourage people to open up about their experience and support others.