New Zealand recently announced that couples who have a miscarriage or stillbirth will be eligible for paid bereavement leave under a new law approved by parliament.
New Zealand is reportedly only the second country in the world to introduce the measure, after India, but what are people’s employment rights in the UK if they have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth?
What are your leave rights after a miscarriage in the UK?
The NHS defines a miscarriage as the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks, explaining that “if the baby dies before 24 completed weeks, it's known as a miscarriage or late foetal loss.
However, a stillbirth “is when a baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy,” adds the NHS.
The entitlement to paid leave from work in the UK depends at what stage of pregnancy a woman loses their baby, explains employment law and HR service provider, Peninsula.
Peninsula says that “if a child is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the mother will still be entitled to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave and pay”.
However, they need to have worked 26 weeks of service by the end of the 15th week before the due date in order to qualify for statutory maternity pay.
Partners still get up to two weeks leave and pay if they would otherwise have qualified, but again, they will need to have worked 26 weeks service by the end of the 15th week before the due date in order to take paternity leave and get paternity pay.
Women and their partners will also both be able to take parental bereavement leave - which is two weeks of leave to be taken within 56 weeks of the miscarriage. No length of service is needed to be able to take this and is in addition to maternity and paternity leave.
Parental bereavement leave after 24 weeks of pregnancy will be paid if a person meets “certain qualifying criteria, including having 26 weeks of service at the time of the miscarriage,” Peninsula adds.
However, if a miscarriage takes place before 24 weeks of pregnancy, then “there are no entitlements to leave, so the employee is likely to take sickness absence and be paid in line with the business’ sick pay arrangements, which must be at least statutory sick pay (SSP) where the employee qualifies,” explains Peninsula.
‘Take each case as it comes, communicating clearly and openly with the employee about how they are feeling’
For those who are not entitled to paid bereavement leave and may have to decide to use sick leave, Tim Scott, Director of People at Fletchers Solicitors and Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, says some companies may also “operate a compassionate leave policy”.
Mr Scott explains that “how individuals react to a miscarriage is extremely personal” and that this “makes it difficult for employers to apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach”.
Employers should bear in mind that “whilst some people will react at the time, others may not feel the full emotional impact until much later,” Mr Scott adds.
He says he would instead “urge employers to take each case as it comes, communicating clearly and openly with the employee about how they are feeling.”
Mr Scott adds that there are some specific provisions in the Equality Act that protect employees from discrimination in certain circumstances, but says: “I would hope that a modern employer would not need to fall back on statutory minimums and would instead recognise that their team member is going through a difficult time and needs support.”
Addressing New Zealand’s miscarriage and stillbirth bereavement leave announcement, Madeleine Mould, associate in Blake Morgan’s employment law team, says the new entitlement “is relatively modest,” as it offers only three days.
Ms Mould adds that “it will be interesting to see what the uptake is of the new ‘miscarriage leave’, as a lot of employees may not feel comfortable sharing such intimate or personal information with their employer, particularly early on in pregnancy.
“I would expect that, if it is well received in New Zealand, moves will be made to introduce it here and elsewhere around the world.”