An estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. It’s important to remember that, no matter when a pregnancy or baby is lost, it can be devastating for both parents. As a manager, you have an important role in supporting the wellbeing and work needs of a team member who has experienced pregnancy loss.
Employees may be embarrassed, prefer to keep things private or be worried about potential discrimination. As soon as you are aware that someone you manage has lost a pregnancy or baby, it’s important you acknowledge it. They may or may not want to talk about the situation in detail, but acknowledging that it has happened is very important. Saying ‘I’m very sorry for your loss’ and asking open questions such as ‘how are you?’ will help them feel they can talk to you about their situation if they need to or want to.
Support if someone experiences pregnancy loss at work
It’s possible that someone could miscarry at work or experience serious pregnancy related symptoms that concern them. If it’s a medical emergency, the individual will need to go to hospital. You should offer practical support, such as asking the employee if they would like you to contact their partner or another family member or friend, or to arrange an ambulance or taxi.
Manage sensitive situations
Having an awareness and sensitivity around certain events that could be upsetting is important: for example, pregnancy announcements, celebrations for colleagues who are going on maternity leave, colleagues bringing their baby, or other children into the workplace. Whilst it is important that everyone’s life events are valued, if you anticipate that certain events could be upsetting for someone who has lost a pregnancy or baby, have a conversation about how best to support them. They may wish to be able to absent themselves from such events and you could agree how this will be explained to the rest of the team in a way that they feel comfortable with.
Manage absence and leave with compassion and flexibility
Very often, an employee who experiences pregnancy or baby loss during the earlier stages of pregnancy may not have announced the pregnancy. Therefore, informing you of their loss could be particularly challenging for them. Experiencing pregnancy or baby loss at any stage can affect people’s health and wellbeing in a number of different ways, including their mental and physical health. Being offered time away from work to deal with the effects of their loss and grief can help individuals to deal with these impacts.
See the section below, how different types of leave could be used, for help on how the University’s different leave schemes could be used to support the employee.
If someone is absent due to pregnancy or baby loss, have a sensitive conversation with them about how best to keep in touch during their absence, and set clear expectations about when you will check in, etc. In order to manage work in their absence it’s reasonable to have a conversation about the likely length of the time away from work in the same way you would about any other absence.
A supportive return to work
You should plan and carry out a return-to-work interview to help ease the employee back into work when ready. An effective return-to-work interview can build trust with the employee and support their smooth return to work.
You should ask them whether they would like colleagues to know, and whether they would like you to inform colleagues on their behalf, or whether they wish for this to be kept confidential. This is their choice, and their privacy must be respected.
Build flexible responses
Some employees may require some temporary adjustments to their job role, work environment or work schedule following their experience of pregnancy or baby loss. For example, they may wish to be able to take more frequent breaks for a few weeks or have access to a quiet space and know that their manager will not question them in front of the team. Flexible support and/or adjustments for employees can include a combination of approaches, for example:
- allowing them to switch to different tasks on bad days
- permission to excuse themselves from triggering situations
- temporary/informal changes to their work schedule (for example, working from home, temporary reduced hours or taking a period of leave)
- Remind them that they can make a flexible working application if they feel that a longer term adjustment to their working arrangements might be needed.
Provide ongoing support
Return to work is often seen as a one-off event, but some people who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss might need some longer term support.
- If you have put temporary adjustments in place, check in with them regularly to see how any support or adjustments are helping the employee and whether they are still needed.
- As with any other health - and/or wellbeing related issues, take this fully into account should there be underperformance on the part of an individual. Identify any extra support the person may benefit from such as some additional supervision/more frequent 1:1s.
- Don’t forget to consider the impact on other members of the team. Make sure that other team members are being supported if they have additional work because of the person’s sick leave, a phased return or changes in duties.
Signpost to helpful services and resources
Make sure you signpost team members to helpful services and resources, such as Occupational Health and the University’s Employee Assistance Programme, or point to external sources of support. Below, are some useful internal and external sources of support to signpost employees too.