Susy Gould Obiora: What can employers do to ensure bereavement leave policies are effective?

Susy Gould Obiora

Sadly, one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. However, a survey by Sands, conducted between April and May 2018, found that nearly 50% of people reported that no one talked to them about the death of their baby once they returned to work. Shockingly, 80% were offered no internal or external bereavement support from their employer.

For those parents who want to return to work following the death of their baby, the support they receive from their employer can make a big difference.

The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act, expected to come into force in 2020, will ensure that working parents are able to have two weeks of paid leave in which to begin the grieving process. This is a big step forward, and we want to help more people working in HR or positions of management to put in place effective and meaningful support for staff who have experienced baby loss.

One source of guidance for employers is Sands’ booklet, Information for Employers, which can help organisations¬†deal sensitively with employees when they return to work after the trauma of baby loss. We can offer employers advice, guidance¬†and information on how to appropriately support bereaved parents in the workplace; for example, simply by making affected employees aware of their entitlements to pay and leave.

When employers are informed about the death of an employee’s baby, they may want to send a short note simply saying how sorry they are. Although no one can take away the parents‚Äô grief, a simple acknowledgment of their loss may help them feel less isolated.

Grief and shock can make it hard for a bereaved employee to think clearly and be proactive. They may not feel able, for example, to get in touch to discuss their return to work or to check how the death of their baby affects their entitlement to leave and benefits. It may be helpful for employers, therefore, to contact them and suggest a meeting or fix a time for a longer phone call.

A bereaved employee may be worried about what to say to their colleagues when they return to work. It is helpful to reach out to them beforehand to check whether they wish the employer to discuss this on their behalf and how this information should be shared with other colleagues. Employers could suggest that they write a letter or an email explaining what has happened including, for example, the baby’s name, when and how their baby died if they want to share this, and maybe how the death has affected them and their family. This can ease the employee’s first contact with colleagues and can make it easier for other people to be supportive.

Many people worry about saying the wrong thing to a bereaved parent on their return to work. Sands’ #FindingTheWords campaign offers advice on how to start a conversation with someone whose baby has died, taking the pressure off the bereaved parents. For employers, managers and HR professionals, knowing what to say and do when someone in their workplace had experienced baby loss is vital in offering effective support.

Susy Gould Obiora is senior corporate and trusts fundraiser at stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands

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