Call to extend paid leave for miscarriage before 24 weeks

The first time that Sally Thompson became pregnant, she says the circumstances were not ideal.

She had not been with her partner, Paul, for long and they were both living at home with their parents.

Despite that, when the pregnancy ended in miscarriage at nine weeks, she felt a sense of sadness.

“It doesn’t take long to get attached,” she says.

“As soon as you kind of see the two lines or ‘pregnant’ on the test, you don’t think of a ball of cells, you think of the baby that’s going to come in nine months.

“That’s what you think about and it is sad when it happens.”

She says it was a confusing time, adding: “It was lonely, because I didn’t know anyone who had been through it. It was isolating because I didn’t really know who to go to, to talk about it.”

Sally is now 32 – she and Paul got married in 2017. She has been pregnant nine more times, but none of the pregnancies have gone to term.

After each miscarriage, Sally took sick leave, as women who lose a baby before 24 weeks are entitled to do.

Sally and Paul on their wedding day in 2017
Sally and Paul on their wedding day in 2017

While some of her employers were sympathetic, one was not and dismissed her following a lengthier absence.

“I have had kind of polar opposite experiences,” she says.

“At that employer, miscarriage was not understood at all. It felt like they didn’t care that I was coming to work and crying for 20 minutes before I even entered the building.

“My current employer is the complete opposite. I’ve had a miscarriage there and they could not have been kinder.”

SNP MP Angela Crawley is calling on the government to give women and their partners the legal right to take three days paid leave, if a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks. SNP MP Angela Crawley says miscarriage should recognised as “a loss, not an illness”.

She will introduce a private members’ bill to Parliament in June this year, and it is due to have its first full debate in December.

She says: “I’ve received tonnes and tonnes of correspondence on this issue from fathers, from mothers and from families who have experienced miscarriage.

“They have outlined that, in most cases, there was a degree of stigma or shame to experiencing a miscarriage.”

Many mothers took unpaid leave or sick leave, she adds, and many fathers took unpaid time off because “they didn’t feel they could approach their employer and ask for paid leave”.

After 24 weeks

The government introduced paid parental leave for the loss of a baby after 24 weeks in April 2020.

It entitles a parent to two weeks’ leave paid at £151.97 a week, or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

A government spokesperson told the BBC the entitlement to this pay “is a floor not a ceiling, and we urge employers to show compassion and flexibility towards women who have suffered a miscarriage, and to respond sensitively to each individual’s specific needs”.

Speaking in the Commons in July this year, Boris Johnson appeared to suggest he would not be in favour of extending parental leave to those who suffered the loss of a baby earlier in the pregnancy.

He said it entitled those who lost a child after 24 weeks of pregnancy to some payment.

He added: “But of course, nothing I can say and no payment we could make would be any consolation to those who experience a miscarriage in that way.”

Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie, announced on social media in August that the couple had experienced a miscarriage earlier in 2021.

Boris and Carrie Johnson
Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie suffered a miscarriage in 2021

Financial cost

A policy of statutory paid leave would come at a cost.

Some employers have already decided to introduce paid leave themselves.

The retailer John Lewis will offer two weeks’ paid leave from November to staff who experience a miscarriage at any stage of pregnancy.

Nikki Humphrey, the company’s executive director for people, says the business has weighed the cost and benefits.

“We know anyway that when someone experiences a loss of pregnancy they typically take time off for sick leave and so actually the bigger factor was about how do we provide the right support,” she says.

“We clearly had to consider the financial aspect but importantly it was their whole wellbeing we considered.”

Sally says she believes paid leave would have helped.

“For my early losses that may have been all the time that I would need.

“I think a lot of people, men included, would find that useful because it would give men time to be there with their partners who are going through a difficult experience.”

Source: BBC