Pregnancy loss

Last reviewed and updated October 2023

 

The loss of a baby through miscarriage or still birth is a very difficult time and can have a major impact on the health and wellbeing of both parents.  The University recognises that supporting an employee who has experienced such a loss requires compassion, flexibility and sensitivity.

What is pregnancy loss?

miscarriage is the loss of a baby during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Further definitions include an early miscarriage (before 12 weeks) and late miscarriage (after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but before 24 weeks).

Some pregnancies may be terminated for medical reasons for example because of an ectopic pregnancy which happens when a fertilised egg attaches itself somewhere outside the uterus. Although very rare, another kind of pregnancy loss is molar pregnancy, when a foetus doesn’t form properly in the womb.

stillbirth is when a baby dies before or during labour after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy.

For those who have had difficulty conceiving, and may have been undergoing fertility treatments, pregnancy loss can be particularly sensitive. Some people may have the distressing experience of more than one pregnancy or baby loss, including recurrent miscarriage. In the UK recurrent miscarriage means having three or more miscarriages in a row, affecting around one in every hundred couples trying for a baby.

What does this guidance cover?

This guidance is intended to help managers provide appropriate practical and emotional support for an employee affected by pregnancy loss.

Although this guidance covers support for all pregnancy loss, please note that parents who lose a baby after 24 complete weeks of pregnancy are eligible for both the family leave schemes (maternity and paternity) and Parental Bereavement Leave.  

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Those who are eligible for the maternity/paternity and parental bereavement leave schemes may wish to take up their entitlement to paid leave away from work.  However, those who have suffered earlier pregnancy loss are likely to return to work much earlier and may need additional support.  Pregnancy loss affects people in different ways, but employees who have suffered a pregnancy loss may be:

  • having difficulty sleeping
  • finding it difficult to concentrate or to feel motivated
  • struggling with social interaction
  • experiencing mood swings
  • feeling upset, tearful and/or irritable, and/or
  • finding it difficult to manage their mental health.

Some people may be reluctant to tell their manager or colleagues that they are trying for a baby or have suffered a miscarriage.  As a manager you should have regular 1:1 discussions which offer the opportunity to have a wellbeing catch up and space for a confidential conversation.  Offering compassionate support can have a significant impact.  Good communication will help you ensure the right support is put in place to help your employee manage their work alongside their recovery.

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.

Time off during and after a miscarriage is protected as ‘pregnancy-related’ leave. If an employee has suffered an early or late miscarriage, any sick leave should be recorded as sickness absence in the ‘pregnancy-related’ category. Any pregnancy-related sick leave will not count towards sickness absence trigger points. For periods of absence longer than seven days, the employee will need to obtain a ‘Fit note’ from their doctor or health professional at hospital.

Employees who experience pregnancy loss after 24 weeks are entitled to leave and pay under the University maternity scheme. Employees who experience pregnancy loss after 24 weeks are also entitled to Parental Bereavement leave.

It may be that a combination of the different types of leave available to employees is used. A description of each is provided below.

Type of leave - Bereavement/compassionate leave

Up to 5 days Bereavement/compassionate leave could be offered.

Type of leave – family leave

In the case of still birth after 24 complete weeks of pregnancy parents are eligible for the contractual maternity and paternity leave schemes.

Type of leave - Parental bereavement leave

In the very sad event that an employee loses a child under the age of 18, including in the case of stillbirth after 24 complete weeks of pregnancy, the University's Parental Bereavement leave scheme offers two weeks leave at their normal full rate of pay.

If the employee is taking another type of leave (for example, maternity leave or paternity leave) when the child dies or stillbirth happens, the Parental Bereavement Leave cannot start until the other leave has ended but does not have to be taken immediately after, as long as Parental Bereavement Leave is taken within 56 weeks of the date of death or stillbirth. It is also possible to take Parental Bereavement Leave between blocks of shared parental leave if this had been booked this before the child died. 

Type of leave - Sick leave

If the employee's health is adversely affected by the loss, they may wish to speak to their GP and a short period of sick leave might be more appropriate and should be discussed with the individual (the normal rules relating to provision of a Fit Note for more than 7 consecutive calendar days would apply).

Temporary flexible working

A period of temporary flexible working might also be considered as noted above.

Internal resources

Health Assured

All University employees can access the University’s Employee Assistance Programme, Health Assured, which provides free access to a 24 hour, independent counselling and advice service.

Work+Family Space

The Work+Family Space, a staff benefit available to all employees, offer this article and other resources on their webpages: Returning to Work After a Miscarriage.

Employees can register for free with the Work+Family Space to access further support on family related issues and once employees have registered they can arrange telephone consultations with a range of experts who can help them with Work+Family challenges. 

Occupational Health

If the physical symptoms or symptoms of low mood and/or anxiety are impacting on work or work is impacting on their health following miscarriage, employees can request a management referral to occupational health for recommendations on adjustments at work. Alternatively, a self-referral option is available if they prefer to speak to OH confidentially about support options.

External links and services

The Miscarriage Association has a suite of guidance around miscarriage including a guide for miscarriage in the workplace for employees and managers and support for partners.  They also provide a pregnancy support helpline, live chat service, support groups and more.

The CIPD has a useful people manager guide: supporting employees through pregnancy loss which includes information on how to have a sensitive and supportive conversation and comments that might be helpful and things not to say.