Annabel: Everyone hopes that birth and delivery will go smoothly, but the one thing employers really dread is dealing with what happens when something goes wrong. The combination of a highly emotional situation, complicated legal rights, and stressed individuals sends most bosses running for the hills.
Laura: According to Sands, a charity who support newly bereaved parents who have lost a baby or had a stillbirth (http://www.uk-sands.org/), 11 stillbirths take place every day in the UK. Compared to the number of babies being born, this is a very small percentage, but it is a devastating experience.
Annabel: Women who lose their baby before their twenty-fifth week of pregnancy do not have the right to statutory maternity leave. This usually coincides with the 15th week before the expected week of confinement (the EWC) – a month before the point at which maternity leave could normally start anyway (at the 11th week before the EWC).
Once a pregnancy reaches its 25th week, a woman will qualify for maternity leave. . The birth itself triggers the start of maternity leave (if it has not already started). When the start of maternity leave is triggered this way, the woman should notify her employer ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ that her leave has started. Statutory maternity pay would start from this point too.
Laura: Every woman will respond in her own way, but it is important not to rush back to work unless you really have to, and to take time to grieve. Women can feel pressurised to get back to work and act as if nothing really happened and sometimes their partners can push for an early return to ‘normality’ to help them cope with the loss.
Annabel: Maternity leave is normally 52 weeks. Many women will want to return to work earlier than that. Once the leave has started, women must give at least 8 weeks’ notice of an earlier date of return. And it is illegal for women to return to work within two weeks of the birth in any event.
Laura: It can be tempting for the woman to get back to work as early as possible, but not all women will be medically or psychologically fit to do so. There may be the physical trauma of a difficult birth to add to the grief itself.
Annabel: We are all notoriously shy about dealing with grief, and bosses can feel that they are in a no-win situation. If they don’t contact the woman, they may be viewed as uncaring and not interested; if they do, this may be viewed as unwanted intrusion. Though I do think the client I had who phoned a week after a stillbirth saying “You don’t want your maternity leave then do you, when are you getting back to work?” took the prize for insensitivity.
Laura: A simple condolence card and/or flowers can bridge the gap between contact and intrusion. A note saying “we are all thinking of you – contact us when you feel you are ready” may be all that is needed. Making no contact at all can feel like a rejection, and can really upset parents who are already grieving.
Annabel: A partner may be entitled to unpaid dependant’s leave to briefly spend some time with their partner and to make arrangements for a funeral (if one is to be held).
Paternity leave: the mother’s co-parent will be entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave under the normal rules provided the “24 weeks of pregnancy” threshold has been passed. The co-parent, in applying for paternity leave, must certify that the leave is being sought “to care for the child or to support the child’s mother”.
If a stillbirth occurs earlier than the 15th week before the EWC, the co-parent might be entitled to compassionate leave under their employer’s scheme, but they would not be entitled to statutory paternity leave.
Parental leave: If the co-parent had already arranged for parental leave, then that would no longer apply. Parental leave is specifically to care for a child, and does not apply to caring for the person’s partner.
Laura: Partners can be just as upset by the loss of a baby as the birth mother. It can be easy to ignore them as everyone concentrates on supporting the birth mother.
Annabel: Employers are always in a difficult situation when dealing with bereavement. Most employers simply do not have the skills or the time to do what in effect is a counselling job. If a bereaved parent returns to work early from pre booked parental leave, the chances are they will not be quite the same as they were when they left.
Laura: Women are not always thinking straight at this point. Some try to bury themselves in work, but a common feature of grieving can be impaired concentration. This can lead to problems at work.
Annabel: You may want to look at the risk assessment for the role. If the role is stressful, deadline driven, or has other upsetting features, it may be a good idea to sit down and suggest a temporary adjustment of duties to get the individual back to work on a gradual basis. If you think the individual is not ready to return, or needs some form of counselling, you will need great tact in suggesting this. But you should avoid at all costs giving advice or directions about what it is safe or wise for the individual to do.
Laura: Many women are tempted into rushing to try to have another baby. It is a good idea to find out if there are any medical or genetic tests that need to be done, and whether you are fit enough to start the process again.
Annabel: For the boss, of course, one maternity leave period with an unexpectedly early return, followed by a second period within a year or two, can be very difficult to manage. Whilst most bosses are supportive of women’s desire to have a baby and use their maternity leave, it can be difficult for small organisations in particular to handle, especially if they have not properly contracted for any maternity leave cover and end up paying for the whole period and having an early returner.
Do you have a query that you’d like Laura or Annabel to answer? Follow this link and post your question for them – http://balancingthebump.com/contact/
Posted by on 29/07/2011 10:22:57
Jackie Groundsell is known as the queen of women's business networking lunches - the Connector. She supports thousands of small business owners through her events and lunch-time meetings