One in five employees who have suffered baby loss did not receive any support from their employer, according to CIPD research that finds a significant gap in the level of help employers offer staff at this distressing time.
It said employers should recognise that pregnancy loss or baby loss is an important workplace issue, and they need to develop a framework to support the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of those who experience it.
Just over half (56%) of employers provide support to employees who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks, the CIPD’s Workplace support for employees experiencing pregnancy or baby loss report finds.
Twenty per cent do not provide any support until the employee becomes eligible for statutory leave and pay, which kicks in at the end of the 24th week of pregnancy. Public and third sector employers are more likely than private sector firms to offer support before this milestone.
A survey of 295 UK employees who experienced pregnancy or baby loss in the past five years found that 45% felt either very or quite supported by their employer when they suffered a miscarriage or baby loss. However, 31% said they felt neither supported nor unsupported, suggesting their employer did nothing to help but also nothing to hinder their experience.
The level of, or lack of, support offered meant that 24% had considered leaving their job and 24% thought about reducing their hours.
The report says: “It’s estimated that one in four pregnancies in the UK end in loss during pregnancy or birth. Given that the majority of people wanting to start or grow a family are of working age, it’s safe to assume that most of these losses will happen to individuals who are in employment.
“Everyone’s situation and emotional response will be unique, but many people will experience a period of bereavement and grief following such a loss, as well as an impact on their physical health.
“Undoubtedly many employees’ wellbeing and their interaction with work – not only the individual physically experiencing the pregnancy or baby loss but also their partner – will be affected.”
Nearly one in eight employees felt their employer did not encourage an open and supportive climate where employees felt able to talk about miscarriage or baby loss. Sixteen per cent felt this was provided “a little” and only 24% felt this was encouraged “to a great extent”.
Nearly a quarter did not tell their manager or HR when they experienced baby or pregnancy loss. The most common reason why was a feeling that it was a private matter (65%), while 28% were concerned about prying questions and 19% were concerned about the impact it could have on their career.
One survey respondent said: “My manager hasn’t been very helpful. Even though he is a man it’s no excuse. He has already begun to treat me differently. [For example] we have a work trip in six months and he said that he didn’t expect me to attend as I might be pregnant again. I found this very triggering.”
Asked about what policies were in place to support employees suffering baby or pregnancy loss, just 9% of the 2,023 senior HR professionals surveyed said they had a standalone, specific policy for this issue, however 27% said it was covered by a wider policy, such as wellbeing or bereavement.
One in three organisations said they did not have a formal miscarriage or baby loss policy, nor did they plan to introduce one.
Support provided by employers included:
- Flexible working or a phased return to work (offered by 29% of employers)
- Paid time off to attend appointments (28%)
- Access to an employee assistance programme (24%)
- Paid leave for pregnancy loss before 24 weeks for the mother (21%)
- Access to occupational health services (20%)
- Paid leave for pregnancy loss before 24 weeks for the partner (13%).
Asked about the forms of support that would have been most helpful following pregnancy or baby loss, 46% of employees said they would have benefitted from paid compassionate or other special leave and 40% would have found understanding from their manager helpful. Other popular support mechanisms included paid time off for appointments (34%), the option to work from home when needed (26%), access to counselling (22%) and flexible working hours (22%).
Only 8% would have benefitted from an employee assistance programme, while only 6% would have found referral to occupational health helpful.
The CIPD said it would publish practical guidance on developing workplace support following pregnancy or baby loss, which would expand on five principles:
- Raising awareness that pregnancy or baby loss is an important workplace wellbeing issue
- Creating open, supportive and inclusive cultures, where line managers can show empathy and understanding
- Developing pregnancy or baby loss support frameworks, including policies, provision, line manager guidance, education and access to expert help
- Managing absence and leave with compassion and flexibility, for both partners
- Equipping line managers with the skills needed to show support and understanding.