Baby Loss Awareness Week
Baby Loss Awareness Week is an awareness campaign for supporting parents who have experienced the loss of a new-born or who have experienced a stillbirth. Their aims are the support bereaved families, to raise awareness, and to drive improvements in care and support for those parents.
Baby Loss Awareness Week Alliance provides weekly and daily prompts for anyone who wants to get involved. This year’s prompt is Wellbeing, and today’s prompt is community support (including in the workplace), so we thought we would cover the topic from the point of view of human resources.
Legal Rights to Bereaved Parents.
Employees have a legal right to parental bereavement leave of up to two weeks for the death or stillbirth of children between 18 weeks of pregnancy and eighteen years old. This is irrelevant of service length and can be taken at any time up to 56 weeks after the loss. The employee in question does not need to be the child’s biological parent – this definition allows for adoptive parents, stepparents, or other people who are involved in the day-to-day care of the child to take parental bereavement leave.
Moreover, all employees have the right not to be dismissed or experience ‘a detriment’ (such as demotion, pay cut, or being refused or otherwise denied promotional or training opportunities) for any reason connected with pregnancy or childbirth, regardless of service. In addition, any woman dismissed or experiencing a detriment due to pregnancy or childbirth, may bring a claim of sex discrimination against their employer if they retaliate for taking time off to process a stillbirth or child loss. Remedies can include compensation for injury to feelings that, because of the link to sex discrimination, carries no upper cap.
Furthermore, any parent who has served at least 26 weeks is entitled to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP) of £151.20 a week, so long as they meet the National Insurance Lower Earnings Limit in the previous eight weeks before the child’s death.
This unfortunately leaves a gap where a parent may not be entitled if they’ve had to take Dependence Leave due to the child being ill – this is one region of employment law where there is a massive gap that leaves vulnerable employees even more vulnerable, and where improvements should and could be made. As an employer, you may consider a policy to fill the gap by topping up bereavement pay as a benefit, where caring for a sick child has left the parent otherwise ineligible.
Child Bereavement Leave and Other Things you Can Do
According to Sue Ryder, it is expected than an employee experiencing intense grief is operating at an average of 70% of their normal capacity in the six months following their child bereavement. This can become worse when significant events, like birthdays or anniversaries, come around on their calendar.
We have made a post about the kinds of support you can offer to people for mental health issues, and we want to reaffirm those suggestions. Child bereavement is incredibly stressful, and the sorts of suggestions we make for reducing stress for an employee dealing with mental health issues can also be used to support a bereaved employee.
Offering resources, communicating with a grieving employee about their needs, and monitoring them for issues like absenteeism, presenteeism and overwork (all of which can indicate their loss is affecting their mental health) are all things you can do in order to support a bereaved employee. The points under ‘Offer Flexibility at Work’ could be especially useful to a grieving employee, as can easing them back into work after they take their bereavement leave.
When you first hear the news, be sure to offer condolences, and be as calm and empathetic as possible – even if the situation is frustrating to you, you should not voice those concerns to your employee, because it will likely just make them feel worse. You should also reassure them that work comes second in this situation, and they do not need to come into work and ask them if they require any important work to be covered to give them room to focus on their grief. Be flexible about how you keep in touch – someone upset might not be able to talk for long.
You should also remind your employee about any resources you have available to offer them, such as counselling or other resources, but don’t push the matter or put pressure on them to make any decisions – just reassure them those structures and policies are in place if they need it.
You might also want to provide a compassionate or bereavement leave policy that goes beyond the statutory requirements, such as providing more paid time off, or being more flexible about allowing the employee to use sick leave, holiday or other mechanisms if you can’t offer paid leave specifically for bereavement.
Returning to Work
It is not usually appropriate to ask on the first days of bereavement about returning to work, but you should have conversations with your employee about how they might like to return when they’re ready on your keeping-in-touch days. Allow those keeping-in-touch moments to provide a place where you can discuss honestly and openly how well your employee is coping with their loss, when they might be ready to return, and how you might make adjustments for them to come back. It may be that they need a phased return where they only work part time, or hybrid work (where they work from home for some days) or work more flexibly for a while.
Support should be ongoing – grief can affect all parts of an employee’s performance due to grief symptoms (like sleeplessness, brain fog, or difficulties concentrating), extra responsibilities (such as looking after the deceased’s dependents), or the grief exacerbating an existing mental health condition.
The best way to approach a bereavement in the family is with compassion and understanding. A bereavement is a time in someone’s life when they need extra support and empathy, and this is even more so when the bereavement is the employee’s child. Helping to structure their work life in such a way that they are eased back into difficult situations and managing the expectations of the bereaved employee and their colleagues, can be one of the most compassionate things you can do as an employer. You can also signpost resources for employees struggling with grief and help them get the support they need.
The Baby Loss Awareness Week page offers a wealth of resources you can offer a bereaved employee, particularly resources aimed at parents who experience miscarriage or child bereavement. We also, once again, want to point to our own page on mental health in the workplace.