With around one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it’s very likely that most of us will know someone who has been through this, and many of us, female or male, will have been affected ourselves.
Common though it is, it is often a very distressing experience, both emotionally and physically, and often a lonely and confusing one, too. That’s why the Miscarriage Association offers a listening ear, support, information and guidance, responding to thousands of requests for help each year.
Among the many questions people ask are those relating to work: “What should I tell them?”, “How much time can I take off?”, “Will I get paid?”, “Will it go on my record?”.
The results of our survey of over 600 people affected by miscarriage are pretty stark. Many employees don’t know their rights, managers aren’t sure of their responsibilities and employers rarely have policies in place to help either party.
Almost half of women experiencing miscarriage were not told about or offered pregnancy-related leave, which is protected by law. As a result, many felt forced to return to work before they were ready. In some cases, it meant their sick record was wrongly impacted, with several later facing disciplinary actions.
Sally told us: “I would drive to work and sit in the car sobbing because I couldn’t face going in. I eventually told my manager that I’d come back too soon and my mental health was suffering.
“He 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 count as two separate absences which ‘wouldn’t look good’.
“So I went in every day for three weeks and sat at my desk with physical shakes because my anxiety was so debilitating.”
Many others we surveyed told us they felt unable to talk to their managers about their loss; they were worried if their boss knew they were planning to start a family, they would not be considered for future opportunities or promotions. Some women even continued to work while physically losing their baby.
An unsupportive environment affects organisations, too. More than a third of those we spoke to told us a lack of support on their return meant the standard of their work suffered, while one in ten ultimately ended up leaving their role.
With no official guidance in place around miscarriage, even thoughtful and compassionate employers sometimes struggle to know how best to offer support.
Faye 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 a migraine, which really upset me.”
No doubt Faye’s manager was hoping to spare her further upset, but ultimately it caused the reverse.
Over 75% of those we surveyed, including employers and managers, said they would welcome a specific miscarriage policy in the workplace. This is why the Miscarriage Association has launched a new campaign to encourage just that.
Our new, free, Miscarriage and the Workplace resource hub offers:
- Information about rights and responsibilities.
- Examples of good practice.
- Suggestions on how best to talk about miscarriage in the workplace.
- Information for HR.
It also includes a policy template that can be quickly and easily adapted in line with other company policies.
Supporting employees before, during and after pregnancy loss
An unsupportive workplace can mean reduced productivity, lower standards of work, increased absence and even resignation. In contrast, thoughtful support and management could mean a quicker and more effective return to work, enhanced motivation and commitment to the company.
Julia, who has experienced four miscarriages, told us: “Each time this happened to us my work asked me ‘how can we support you?’, and also made suggestions they thought might help, such as taking time off or seeking mental health support.
“It wasn’t lip service – my manager would check in with me to see how I was doing and how I was coping being back. I was never made to feel as if taking time off was a problem, or that things should be back to normal straightaway. I feel very fortunate to work for a supportive company and especially under a manager I can talk to.”
Despite an estimated 250,000 pregnancies ending in miscarriage each year, we’re still not good at talking about it; even less so, it seems, in the workplace.
Here are some tips on supporting employees before, during and after pregnancy loss:
- Create a supportive environment where employees can approach and speak to their line managers.
- Have a policy in place to help everyone.
- Be aware that time off for a miscarriage comes under pregnancy-protected leave. Make sure everyone knows this and it is applied. Taking time off for pregnancy loss must not affect someone’s sick record or be used against them for disciplinary or redundancy selection processes.
- Take your lead from the staff member; ask them what they need and really listen. Sometimes small things make the difference.
- Stay in touch but don’t pressure them to return to work.
- Send them a link to the Miscarriage Association’s workplace resource.
- Offer support to return to the workplace; again, ask what would help. Think about a phased return and any reasonable adjustments you might make. Do they do long shifts alone? Do they sit near a pregnant colleague? Might they like to change working patterns or sit elsewhere, if possible, for a while?
- You also might ask if the staff member would like their colleagues to know or not, and share this information if they would.
- Recognise that they may need ongoing medical appointments and make allowances.
And finally, remember the Miscarriage Association is here to help, whatever your role at work.