Fertility and Supporting Employees with Maternity Loss


By Sian Collin

Here, our HR Advisor Sian Collin discusses this very relevant and emotive article regarding fertility and how managers can support employees with maternity loss.

What is baby loss?

Baby loss is far reaching and can include the following:

  • Fertility complications and infertility
  • Miscarriage including ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy
  • Termination of pregnancy due to foetal anomaly
  • Twins and multiples
  • Stillbirth
  • Neonatal death
  • Sudden and unexpected death of an infant
  • Accidental death

The scale of pregnancy loss and baby death is far reaching and the statistics are as follows:

  • 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage
  • 5,000 pregnancies a year are terminated due to foetal anomaly
  • 1 in 150 babies are stillborn or die neonatally
  • 13 babies a day die
  • 1 in 7 couples are affected by infertility

It is likely that you will have employees in you company who have or are being affected by any of the above and experiences can vary from person to person.

The nature of the loss, the individual’s own physical and mental health before and after the loss, their own ways of coping, and support network or beliefs can all impact how they deal with these situations.

Legislation and Best Practice

The Parental Bereavement Leave Act came into force on the 6 April 2020. This allows for employees to be entitled to 2 weeks Parental Bereavement Leave (PBL).  The right applies to all employed parents who lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth (from 24 weeks of pregnancy), irrespective of how long they have been with their employer. The leave is a ‘day-one’ employment right.

This will be paid at the current statutory pay rate, or 90% of average weekly earnings where this is lower, if:

  • they’ve worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks
  • their weekly average earnings are over the lower earning limit

What an Employer needs to consider

The impact on an employee following baby loss and bereavement is not limited and this can affect both the mother and their partner significantly. This can include:

  • Physical and emotional distress
  • Finding it difficult seeing babies and people talking about children around them
  • Dealing with funeral arrangements
  • Postnatal physical recovery
  • Grief and additional support
  • Register and monitor due dates and anniversaries
  • Medical appointments
  • Impact of wellbeing and sleep, short, medium and long term
  • Discussing and breaking news to family, friends and colleagues

Research into baby loss and bereavement suggests that:

  • Women need up to 8 weeks off work following a miscarriage
  • 10% of parents remain off work for 6 months following their baby’s stillbirth
  • 38% of mothers and 21% of partners reduce their working hours following their baby’s stillbirth

Not all employers are in a position to provide discretionary paid leave outside of the two-week statutory payment, however, companies should be open to additional unpaid leave and any support that can be given to employees.

It can be difficult to acknowledge the right support for employees and how to approach the conversation with them.

Below are examples of what we recommend not to say to an employee who has experienced baby loss:

  • Maybe it was meant to be
  • You’re still young, at least you can have more children
  • At least you didn’t get to know them properly
  • You’ll be back to normal soon
  • Time is a great healer

What to say instead:

  • I am so sorry to hear about that, I don’t know what to say
  • Do what’s right for you, we support you
  • Take one day at a time
  • The support is available
  • We are flexible, you are welcome

Building a Supportive Workplace

Some guidance on as a Company you can provide a supportive workplace for employees:

  • Comprehensive and Compassionate pay and leave policy – if able
  • Ensure HR and Line Managers have completed appropriate training on how to support employees
  • Listen and be led by each individual employee
  • Make time to talk and listen
  • Be flexible, anticipate that their situations and feelings may change
  • Follow up verbal conversations and information in writing and be concise with teams and other employees

Fertility Journey

Employers also need to appreciate that they may be faced with the situation of an employee needing to take time off from work to undergo fertility treatment.

Infertility is defined as a disease by the World Health Organisation, and it affects around 15% of the world’s population. In the UK, the fertility regulating body, the HFEA, reports that approximately 50,000 people go through fertility treatment each year.

It can be a long and difficult journey for employees and can be an emotional and financial drain. It can take its toll on their physical and mental health. Trying to work and manage this emotional load can be difficult for employees and companies need to be supportive and understanding.

How to support employees on their fertility journey

There is no legal right to time off work for fertility treatment or related sickness, however, as an employer you should treat IVF appointments and any sickness the same as any other medical appointment or sickness.

You can support your employees by considering flexible working so they can work around their medical appointments or paid time off, unpaid leave or annual leave.

Employees will have pregnancy rights once they have had an embryo transfer (the last part of the IVF process) and might be pregnant. If an employee has made you aware, they will be protected against unfair dismissal and unfair treatment related to the possible pregnancy.

If the employee finds that they are pregnant and makes you aware, they continue to have the same rights throughout their pregnancy and maternity as with non-IVF pregnancies.

If the employee’s IVF treatment was unsuccessful, they are still protected by law against pregnancy discrimination for 2 weeks after finding out an embryo transfer was unsuccessful.

These are some additional ways to support employees through their fertility journey:

  • Raise awareness across the organisation regarding fertility and where employees can find support
  • Create a supportive and open culture for employees to talk
  • Develop policies and processes to support employees
  • Manage any absence and leave with flexibility and understanding
  • Support and equip your Line Managers with how to support employees and provide training where necessary

At THSP, we are happy to support and provide guidance to businesses regarding supporting their employees with maternity loss. We provide policies and guidance, as well as toolkits to support management.

Get in touch with our HR and Employment Law team