Tireless campaigning means companies and government are beginning to join the conversation around baby loss. We find out more about Jack's Law and how this will help grieving parents, plus celebrate the companies and campaigners at the forefront of this movement.
Most workplaces have staff who have experienced, or who will experience, a miscarriage or baby loss. However, very few companies have policies surrounding miscarriage. But that is fortunately beginning to change.
London-based advertising agency Lucky Generals implemented a miscarriage policy a few months ago after CEO Katie Lee attended an event about miscarriages in the workplace. “The penny dropped," says Katie, "I realised we hadn’t got a miscarriage policy even though I’d just redone all of our policy documents."
According to Katie the policy the company has implemented is a broad miscarriage policy but covers any loss before 24 weeks, be that ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy or termination due to medical reasons.
“Really the policy is there to start the conversation for us," she adds.
"A miscarriage policy felt important for a number of reasons. Firstly to signal that it was something that we openly wanted to talk about and allow people to talk about, but then almost completely at odds with that at a time when people might not want to talk about something, we wanted to show then in writing how we would deal with it if they wanted the privacy at that time.
50% of the staff at Lucky Generals are female, between 25 and 35 years old, because of this demographic Katie felt it was especially important to set up a miscarriage policy.
“I think anything that workplaces can do to make that time a little easier, whether that is seemingly small things like miscarriage policies, is really important to keep as many brilliant women in the workforce as possible.
'I had a miscarriage at work'
“Our policy includes advice on what to do if you’re having a miscarriage at work. This happened to me, and I had absolutely no idea what to do, so there’s some very practical advice about what happens at the time – and we’re very clear that this is a guide, because miscarriage affects people in so many different ways that there’s no way you can codify how someone’s going to feel, but we needed to put something in writing to show that we understood that something was required. So even though we’re giving guidance of time off, we’re very clear that we're open to discussion about extra time off as well."
“There’s also a lot of information about going back to work because I think that in particular is a time that is very difficult for people, so we have lots of advice about back to work buddies, about a phased return to work and about various different counselling and things that we offer people to make that easier.
“In terms of writing the policy I think the main difficulties were sensitivity, I didn’t want to feel that you could codify grief and I spent a lot of time on the Miscarriage Association website trying to make sure that everything that I wrote could be flexible enough for how people would need it, but also structured enough that as a piece of policy documentation, I wasn’t opening us up to a difficult situation moving forward.
“The policy has been received really well by employees. I think it’s really important to build a culture of openness and of psychological safety in the workplace. You can only do that by leading from example. I have openly talked about my miscarriage at work and I’ve openly talked about my vulnerabilities."
What are the laws surrounding baby loss and bereavement leave in the UK?
In April 2020, the legal right to paid parental bereavement leave came into place. Also known as 'Jack's Law', this states that parents have a statutory right to a minimum of 2 weeks paid leave if they lose a child, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer.
The new legislation came into force after 10 years of tireless campaigning by Lucy Herd, whose son Jack died at 23 months after drowning in a pond. His father was forced to return to work just three days after his death. Thanks to Lucy, all parents who go through the devastating loss of a child are entitled to two weeks leave (which can be used at the times they need it most – ie as a single block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks taken across the first year after the child’s death). This flexibility acknowledges the fact that each person deals with miscarriage and baby loss differently.
What are my rights if I lose my child before 24 weeks?
Under the law, if your baby is born alive at any point in your pregnancy, even if it’s alive only for one second, you are entitled to all of your maternity rights.
Unfortunately you cannot claim maternity leave or pay if you have a miscarriage, which is classified as loss of the baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy. You are able to take sick leave, and can talk to your GP to sign you off for as long as you feel you need. However, there is grey area around this. Sick leave for a miscarriage counts as a 'pregnancy related illness'. Currently, you are allowed two weeks ‘pregnancy illness’ leave for a miscarriage, thereafter it is considered normal sick leave.
Campaign group 'Pregnant then Screwed' is working to change the grey area around miscarriage rights, by updating the Equality Act. They want the Equality Act to include a definition of ‘pregnancy’ where the term is understood to mean any parts of a pregnancy remaining in the body. They also believe the two weeks pregnancy illness leave is an insufficient allowance, overlooking the fact that some women have very long miscarriages that last months or require surgery that involves a period of recovery.
The group also wants to see the same protection extended to women who either have an ‘incomplete abortion’ or an abortion that results in serious medical complications. Plus, give partners an entitlement to paid time off if their partner has a miscarriage.
What can I do if I feel my workplace is not treating my miscarriage correctly?
In 2015, an Equality and Human Rights Commission report estimated that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of maternity discrimination.
No one should be discriminated against for trying for a baby, but it's sadly the reason why many women keep their miscarriages a secret from work for fear of being treated differently.
Your workplace absence (or miscarriage) policy should have more information about what your manager should do to help with your return to work. This may include: organising a phased return, having a meeting where you talk about what they can do to support you, and
emailing colleagues to explain why you have been off and sharing supporting information for colleagues.
You can ask for this support even if it isn’t in official policy. Your manager, a more senior manager or an HR department should be able to help.
If you don't get the support you need, some people find that making positive changes within their organisation can help them make peace with their experience. For example, campaigning for the introduction of a miscarriage policy or setting up a support group.
If you would like support or information about miscarriage and the workplace, or any other aspect of pregnancy loss Maternity Action, Pregnant then Screwed and ACAS can all provide advice.