Parents struggling to cope after the death of their baby are not receiving the support they need from their employers. Some have even faced dismissal due to absence from work or were compelled to provide evidence their baby had died.
Two in five bereaved parents said no one talked to them about their loss when they returned to work following a miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a baby under 28 days old, according to a survey of more than 2,600 people by the charity Sands.
Only 21% of the parents surveyed had been offered or provided with bereavement support by their employer, and almost half said their employer did not discuss entitlements to pay and leave with them.
One woman surveyed said she was dismissed from her job for taking more than seven days off following the loss of her baby. “My manager visited me in hospital, but only to give me attendance paperwork,” she said.
A lack of communication has led to some parents being faced with difficult situations, as another woman who was surveyed explained: “My line manager failed to tell head office about my baby dying. So when I rang for a form I needed after my maternity entitlement was ending, I was met with ‘but you’ve been on maternity leave with your baby’. I then had to explain what had happened, causing me great upset.”
Sands is now urging employers to get in touch for advice on how to support bereaved parents who want to return to work.
Chief executive of Sands, Dr Clea Harmer, said too often, bereaved parents are faced by a wall of silence from colleagues because people around them - their family, friends, and colleagues - are lost for words.
So the charity has also launched a ‘Finding the Words’ campaign to call on everyone to help break this wall of silence. At the heart of this is an animation showing a ‘day in the life’ of a bereaved parent who is struggling to cope when no one is able to talk about the death of their baby.
Bel Mooney, the co-founder of Sands, said after the loss of her own baby 43 years ago, she personally experienced people turning away awkwardly from her as they didn’t know what to say. “I believe that friends and colleagues can be ‘taught’ how to respond to this shockingly common bereavement,” she said. “We must break the silence around baby loss. And that reaching out in simple human sympathy can start in the workplace.”
Dr Harmer added: “We want everyone to know how to start a conversation with anyone whose baby has died, however long ago. For grieving parents, returning to work may be a difficult step but the workplace can be a vital source of support.
“The government is proposing two weeks of additional pay and leave for bereaved parents from 2020, but we need employers to do more right now to ensure parents know their rights, and that colleagues feel comfortable in talking to parents about the death of their baby.”
For baby loss support:
Bereaved parents, and anyone affected by the death of a baby, can find support through Sands’ free helpline, online community, and network of local support groups across the UK. Find out more here.
The Miscarriage Association also offers support through a helpline, online forums, Facebook and support groups. Find out more here.
Baby charity Tommy’s can also offer support following a miscarriage or stillbirth. Find out more here.