Employers in Australia are now required to provide employees with two days of paid bereavement leave for parents who experience a miscarriage, after a historic change to the Fair Work Act.
It comes after five years of campaigning by The Pink Elephants, a support network dedicated to miscarriage and pregnancy loss, to amplify the voices of those who have lost a child and ensure employers provide dedicated leave and assistance.
Speaking to HRD, Samantha Payne, CEO and co-founder of The Pink Elephants, said it’s time for women and their partners to stop suffering in silence.
“Firstly, this law change categorises miscarriage as a bereavement which is really important to validate their loss, but then it also opens up workplaces to know that they need to do more and this is not an issue they can turn a blind eye to,” she said. “One in three women in Australia will go through this and therefore every workplace needs to ensure it’s equipped with the tools to be able to support their people through it.”
HR leaders play a crucial role in understanding what resources are available and communicating those with their workforce, as well as training people leaders in how to have the right conversations and offer support. Payne said there are three fundamental principles to remember – validation, empathy and connection. Firstly, validation is key – and it’s something that had been missing from the Fair Work Act when Payne experienced a miscarriage herself six years ago.
“Through our work at Pink Elephants we’ve heard stories of women who were returning to work and hiding in bathroom stalls, or presenting in boardrooms the same day as having a procedure earlier in the morning. They just weren’t ready to be back in the workplace, but there was nothing [in the law] to protect them and to say they could take leave,” she said.
In the past, parents who suffered miscarriages have been expected to shrug off their loss, as if it doesn’t warrant real grief. It’s an issue for men as much as women, but now the law is clear. Anyone who experiences a miscarriage, regardless of gender, deserves dedicated time off.
Payne said responding with empathy is the second core principle and thirdly, making sure they have access to the right resources. While the inclusion of miscarriage leave within the Fair Work Act is historic, for leading employers it is just the start. Best practice sees businesses implementing clear policy advice and support materials for those who experience pregnancy loss, including measures such as internal peer support champions.
Similar to a mental health first aider, those people are trained to understand the experience and are confident in their ability to offer support, whether that’s helping the employee put in their leave request or speaking to their manager to rearrange their workload until they’re ready to come back to work.
Leading employers have also chosen to go beyond the two days statutory leave allowance, in some cases offering up to 10 days leave. Earlier this year, NSW became the first state in Australia to introduce five days of paid leave for public sector employees after a miscarriage. But Payne said beyond leave, wrap-around support for employees and efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding miscarriage is equally as important.
“Let’s bring it out of the shadows and talk about miscarriage because a large volume of your workplace will experience it and it is a mental health issue,” she said. “Just like you have your R U OK Day? every year, you should be having a pregnancy loss awareness day every year too because it’s just as big.”