It’s estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, either during pregnancy or birth. As progressive workplaces move towards a more open and supportive culture, the impact of baby loss – whether that’s through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death – is more widely talked about than it used to be.
However, the support on offer from employers is often focused on mothers, with less consideration given to the fact that fathers are suffering too.
Given that statistics show that men are far less likely to disclose that they are struggling with their mental health, there’s a real worry that this suffering goes unnoticed. After all, how do you support someone who doesn’t want to talk?
While there’s a limit to what workplaces are legally required to do to support men through the trauma of losing a baby, what they should be doing from a compassionate perspective is another story entirely.
It’s important to recognise that baby loss – even at the early stages of pregnancy – can be a harrowing experience for both parents. Often there is a societal expectation on the dad to ‘be strong’ for their partner, which can add a lot of pressure. Sadly, statistics show that the stress of coping with baby loss can also increase the risk of a couple separating.
Losing a baby at any stage is a bereavement, and everyone deals with grief differently. While some are more resilient and able to return to work, others understandably need more time to heal before they can face a return to the office.
Time off after a bereavement is not specifically catered for in law, but in practice, most employers do offer compassionate leave. If taken as sick leave, some employers may offer full pay, while others may only pay the statutory amount. The latter can often lead to a bereaved parent returning to work before they are ready. A practical step employers may want to consider is offering staff membership of an income protection scheme that will cover their salary for a longer period if they are unable to work – whether that is due to baby loss or another health reason.
When a parent does return to work, an employer may also need to allow for a temporary impact on their performance – a tribunal would certainly consider baby loss as a good reason for someone not being as productive, focused or accurate as normal.
Additional difficulties may come with persuading fathers to get professional support if they’re not coping well. Men’s mental health charities have made great strides in reducing the stigma around low mood, but chances are a bereaved dad is still less likely to talk about it than a mum.
If an employee keeps telling you they’re fine, it’s difficult to support them. Employers should therefore keep a compassionate eye on the behaviour of someone who has recently lost a baby and, if available, proactively signpost them to the firm’s mental health first aider or counselling support.
If your workplace offers an employee assistance programme, consider allowing the employee paid time off to attend counselling appointments. It might be worth reminding them that these appointments are genuinely confidential and that nothing they discuss at them will be shared with their colleagues.
I know of several companies who have partnered with charities to encourage conversations on baby loss within staff groups. SANDS, Tommy’s and the Lullaby Trust have excellent resources to help employers support people better.
If the psychological impact on your bereaved employee is prolonged or severe, they could be considered disabled – and that’s when the Equality Act kicks in. An employer will then have a duty to ensure the employee is getting the correct mental health support, and perhaps adjusting their role by relaxing certain duties or deadlines. This should all be done with medical input in collaboration with an employee’s GP or occupational health, and not imposed on them. And, even if the law doesn’t apply, there’s an argument that employers should be doing all this anyway, simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Employment law in general is moving in a more family-focused direction. Neonatal rights are being extended in 2024, so we will undoubtedly see a move towards retention packages, and this would include support for baby loss.
I believe that the best employers are always one step ahead of the law. Embracing progressive and compassionate policies before they are compelled to, gives them a head start in attracting and retaining the best people.
This article was featured in the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.
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