EMPLOYMENT LAW

Miscarriage – the last workplace taboo?

It is estimated that as many as one in four pregnancies in the UK end in miscarriage, mostly during the first three months of pregnancy. It has a devastating emotional and psychological impact on women and their partners. For those grieving the loss of a baby, often the support and understanding of their employer can make a significant difference to their experience. However, for too long women have faced stigma in the workplace following the loss of a baby.

The law provides a distinction between miscarriage and stillbirth, the consequences of which have significant implications for the legal entitlements of employees who experience pregnancy loss. A stillbirth is when a baby is not born alive on or after 24 complete weeks of pregnancy. If the baby dies before 24 weeks, it is classified as a miscarriage.

Where there is a stillbirth, an employee is entitled to maternity leave. They are also entitled to maternity pay, subject to necessary qualifying conditions. In addition, both parents may have the right to statutory parental bereavement leave and pay.

However, the law does not class a miscarriage as “childbirth”. This means neither the mother nor her partner has any statutory rights to maternity or paternity leave. They would also fail to qualify for parental bereavement leave.

The lack of legislative support for women who experience miscarriage fuels a growing disparity between workplace acceptance and support for stillbirths, as opposed to miscarriage, despite the impacts often being very similar. Women who lose their baby to miscarriage often return to work almost immediately, either for financial reasons or for fear of workplace repercussions, whether or not they are emotionally ready to.

There have been calls for change, but the UK government has to date not shown the level of commitment to providing support for employees in this area as it has in other areas, such as the extension for redundancy protection rights for pregnant women and those returning from maternity or other parental leave[1] or rights for parents whose babies are born prematurely[2].

The Miscarriage Leave Bill, introduced by MP Angela Crawley in 2021, has been woefully slow in making its way through the House of Commons, despite proposing a very modest three days of statutory paid leave for employees who suffer a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Northern Ireland has legislated to introduce paid miscarriage leave by 6 April 2026, leaving the rest of the UK lagging behind in what would be an important step forward in supporting employees through the impact of miscarriage.

Losing a baby through miscarriage remains a taboo subject, despite it impacting so many. Legislation alone cannot make the workplace more tolerant or understanding, but it can help to shift the dial and remove some of the stigma that is often associated with miscarriage.

 

[1] The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act
[2] Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act

About the authors


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Abigail Maino

Partner

Employment specialist providing commercially focussed support and strategic advice to businesses and senior executives.

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