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Baby Loss and the Workplace

October 11, 2018

This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week. And October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we felt it was important to acknowledge this and support raising awareness and also offer some guidance on how managers and business owners can support parents who have lost their baby.  The stats are there, according to Tommy’s; 1 in 4 families will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime and 9 babies are stillborn every day in the UK. Despite the numbers, baby loss is still a topic that’s not openly talked about, and all too often avoided.

To be honest, there are no right words. It is possibly one of the hardest experiences a family can go through.  At a time when emotions are so raw, when lives and dreams have been shattered, it’s hard to know what to say or what you should say, but saying something and acknowledging your employee’s grief is really important.  There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to supporting your colleagues, it needs business owners and managers to open their eyes and use their best judgement and approach.

Below is some guidance and things to consider:

  • Understanding: Unless you or a close family member have experienced baby loss, it’s hard to understand the feelings and emotions that your employee is going through. The Miscarriage Association have produced a great short video which offers an insight into the feelings that bereaved parents have. You can watch it here. By familiarising yourself with their emotions, it can help you deal with the situation with greater empathy.
  • Contact: Using your intuition and reviewing your relationship with the employee will guide you on whether or not contact should be made direct, flower sent etc. Sending a card which expresses your sorrow and that you are thinking of them, is unlikely to offend and shows you are there for them. If you know the baby’s name then use it, this acknowledges the baby’s existence.
  • Communication: Listening, being there, being open, approachable and supportive are qualities that will go a long way to help you manage the situation as best as you can. It may not come naturally to you and perhaps you would normally opt to ignore and carry on business as usual, but to your employee that has just had their world turned upside down, it’s vital you acknowledge their pain and show you are there for them.  It’s important to communicate to the rest of the firm what has happened, to avoid awkward questions, for example, someone coming back from maternity/paternity leave to be asked “how is your baby?”. Being open and encouraging other colleagues to acknowledge the baby and the grief the parents are enduring will naturally offer a more supportive environment. Research that has been conducted by Tommy’s Organisation highlighted that men/women find it hard when people avoid conversation or refer to the baby as ‘it’.
  • Coming Back to Work: Everyone has different coping mechanisms; some employees will throw themselves into work for a distraction from home life and they need normality through routine. Others will withdraw and be unable to leave the house until the dark cloak begins to lift, it’s important to note here that maternity rights are applicable if the baby was born after the 24th week of pregnancy.  If your employee returns to work, being flexible and patient will support the employee more than you realise. Perhaps offering a phased return, through shorter days, longer lunch breaks or fewer days in the week.
  • Continued kindness: grief is such a personal matter, and everyone deals with it differently. There’s no set time-frame on when someone will begin to feel better, if ever. It’s likely they will learn to manage their grief, but it never goes. Continue to show your support and be kind and considerate. Where possible try and understand your employees ‘triggers’ and try to reduce these in their working day.

The above are just a few suggestions to help your employees navigate through a difficult time. Below are the HR ‘legal bits’ so you are aware of what your employees are entitled to and the specific terms:

  • A miscarriage is classified when a baby is born dead before the 24th week of pregnancy. Employees are not entitled to maternity/paternity or shared parental leave or pay if they have a miscarriage, however they can claim sick leave with a doctors note. Again, support and flexibility as a manager to appreciate this difficult time and the grief the parents are suffering is advised.
  • A stillbirth is classified when a baby is born dead after the beginning of the 24th week of pregnancy. The employee will receive a certificate of stillbirth, which is the evidence for them to claim statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. Paternity leave is also entitled too. The maternity leave will begin the day after the birth.
  • In April 2020 The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act will come into force. It has recently received Royal Assent. It will give employees whom have a child under 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, two weeks away from work. The full rights of the Act have yet been published but will be issued in due course. We will keep you updated on this new legislation.

A recent article by the BBC about baby and infancy loss shared the results from a survey of 2,500 bereaved parents, it found that most employers did not offer a supportive environment when they returned to work.  If you need any support or guidance on how to support an employee suffering baby loss, please do get in touch and we would be happy to help you.  CitrusHR Consulting, call us on 0844 854 6704 or email us at info@citrushrconsulting.com