How organisations can help employees during miscarriage

photo of grieving mother

Right now, one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, which in the UK, is 250,000 of 750,000 births annually. Some women will miscarry once, others will have multiple miscarriages. Therefore, many workplaces – regardless of size of industry – will have women and partners employed there that experience this significant loss, and should consider introducing miscarriage policy

Having experienced two miscarriages myself in 2022, I spoke with three HR professionals to outline some practical tools for managers and organisations to consider to support their employees who may have also experienced a miscarriage or baby loss.

This article does not go into detail about supporting women who are undergoing fertility treatment, however, it was part of the interviews I conducted and is a point of consideration if you plan to offer more support to your employees.

If you have any further suggestions or comments on this article, I welcome your views and feedback. Get in touch with me: oliviabath@thewomensvault.com. 

Guest speaker on the topic of Miscarriage
I can speak to your organisation as part of your Diversity and Inclusion initiatives on the topic of miscarriage, including sharing my own unique experience of two miscarriages, which affects around 1% of women. I can offer guidance to leaders and colleagues on how to support those who have experienced miscarriage or baby loss. A donation will be provided to The Miscarriage Association as part of my speaker’s fee. Please get in touch to discuss further: oliviabath@thewomensvault.com. 

Ways to support your employees, whether you’re a People Manager/HR Manager/part of Women’s Network

There are many ways to support your employees who have experienced a miscarriage or baby loss and the organisations that I spoke to are taking an active role in helping women and their partners who have experienced it, as well as raising awareness for these topics that are still often considered taboo.

However, I do know that many organisations are yet to have a policy, any formal support or awareness raising initiatives, which is challenging for both those who have experienced a miscarriage and managers who are supporting team members.

Tip 1: Say something to acknowledge the loss experienced

The most important thing anyone can do is to say something and any form of acknowledgement is better than nothing. Experiencing a miscarriage or baby loss has profound physical, mental and emotional effects, including grief. 

Things you can say and encourage your employees to say to a colleague or team member:

  • “I’m sorry for your loss”
  • “I’m sorry to hear your sad news”
  • “I’m not sure what to say, but I wanted to acknowledge your loss”
  • “How are you feeling today? I’m sorry again for the loss you experienced”

If you don’t know what to say, send a virtual card.

There are also things that are unhelpful to say, like: “It wasn’t meant to be”, or “at least you have other children”.

Initially, the employee may not want to talk openly about what has happened, as Rebecca, a Senior HR Manager at EE (part of the BT Group) shared with me: “When I had my miscarriage, it was such a shock that I needed time to process what had happened, to celebrate the joy of pregnancy and the loss of what could have been. I didn’t want anyone to know because I couldn’t put into words what I was feeling. But when the time was right for me, I was able to openly discuss it.”

Tip 2: Support for managers – help them to help their team member

Being a manager and knowing how to support a team member can be tricky as miscarriage is a deeply personal situation.

Rebecca, Senior HR Manager at EE, adds: “You may be worried about having this conversation with your team member because this is a difficult situation with lots of emotion and physical pain too. Don’t worry if you are clumsy with your words – the most important thing is to listen and then act upon any commitments you make. Every person and every miscarriage is different so each situation will be unique and need to be responded to in that way.”

Some of the things you can do:

  • Start by asking them how they feel and acknowlede their loss.
  • Ask your team member how they would like to be supported – each person’s situation will be different. This includes asking them whether they would like to share their loss with the team, or keep it confidential.
  • Ask them if they would like to take time off work, and whether they would like to discuss having their workload reduced or whether there’s anything they can handover, so they aren’t worrying about work.
  • Share with them information about the ways that your organisation can provide them with support, such as bereavement counselling and whether it offers paid leave.
  • Discuss their return to work and ongoing support arrangements.
  • Ask them if there is any other support that they would like.

Your HR team may provide you with some further tools and information. There is information on the Miscarriage Association website that may be helpful to you.

Tip 3: Continue to check-in

One of the biggest taboos and misunderstandings around miscarriage is is how long a person may be affected: it can often require multiple hospital visits, medical procedures under general anaesthetic and follow-up visits, as well as counselling sessions. It can also take time for proper grieving and some women may experience a change in their mental health. 

Continue to check-in with your employee to see how they are coping, just as you would with any bereavement, especially if there is an office announcement of another colleague’s pregnancy or birth, which can be triggering.

Rebecca, Senior HR Manager at EE, adds: “Don’t forget that partners are affected too. It’s not just the mother’s loss.”

Tip 4: Create a miscarriage policy with paid leave and other support

According to ACAS, an independent UK public body that works with millions of employers and employees to improve relationships, a miscarriage should be treated as bereavement: ‘The employer should support them in the same way they would support someone after a death.’

This means offering time off at what can be an extremely difficult period, both physically, mentally and emotionally. Also consider how this may affect the person’s partner – it’s not just the mother who is affected.

Right now in the UK, if a miscarriage happens in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, there’s no entitlement to statutory maternity, paternity or parental bereavement leave.

Your organisation may consider creating a miscarriage policy, including things like two weeks’ paid leave, counselling, and support for managers. 

Joanne Walker, a HR Business Partner at Dentsu, says that part of their miscarriage policy is that the employee received two weeks’ of paid leave “without any questions”. They do not need to disclose the reason for the two weeks’ off to their manager.

She adds: “We also offer the opportunity for a phased return to work, alongside additional support schemes to allow our people to ease back into the work during an incredibly difficult time. Having experienced a miscarriage myself, I know that you have days of brain fog, you may feel physically tired or needing to rest and you need some time and space between work and family time, especially if you have other children.”

The Miscarriage Association has a policy template here.

Tip 5: Provide forums for discussion

Not everyone who has a miscarriage or baby loss will want to talk about it. They may also want time to process their grief before being open to discussing it with colleagues. 

When I shared my experiences of miscarriage on my social media and newsletter (with over 2,500 subscribers) – something that I deliberated over for many weeks – I was inundated with messages from women saying that they too had experienced it and were appreciative of the awareness and acknowledgement of both my and their losses. Sharing my experience allowed them to share their experiences too, including different ways they have coped.

Joanne Walker adds that talking about it can create a support network: “If you are comfortable talking about it, it can create a ‘village’ – suddenly other women will share their experience with you – and some communities have been created in our organisation. You can say, ‘this topic isn’t confidential, I can talk about it.’”

Being able to talk and share can be enormously helpful for those who have experienced it and to create a culture of openness where every person is accepted and included. Consider what forums and communication channels can be used in your organisation to raise awareness.

Please share this article

If this blog has been helpful, please do consider sharing it on LinkedIn and tagging me, Olivia Bath, or feel free to get in touch: oliviabath@thewomensvault.com.

Further links and resources:
The Miscarriage Association: Policy template here.
Maternity Action: Employee rights about time off.
Support for Managers: Available here from Miscarriage Association
Further reading: Why I decided to share my miscarriage story

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