Campaign urges companies to extend leave for miscarriages

29 March 2022 4 min. read
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One in five pregnancies in Australia ends in miscarriage, yet the subject remains a workplace taboo. A new campaign is encouraging businesses to improve their bereavement leave policies.

A campaign started by former McKinsey & Company associate Nicole Liu to increase employer support for women who suffer miscarriages continues to gain traction, with more than 70 companies agreeing to extend leave entitlements in the tragic event.

Liu was with McKinsey for two and a half years as a business analyst in Sydney before leaving the consultancy to launch online reproductive health tech company Kin Fertility.

Miscarriages are extremely common but rarely spoken about.

The #WeNeedMoreLeave campaign lobbies businesses both big and small to extend the Australian legislated two days of of paid bereavement leave for either parent who experiences a miscarriage before 20 weeks – which came into effect last year and is described as a positive step forward – to at least ten days to better support physical and emotional recovery. So far, almost 10,000 employees have been impacted by the company policy changes.

The campaign is the result of Kin Fertility research into the impact of miscarriage and a survey of 500 women, which found that a minimum of one week was required on average for recovery from physical symptoms such as bleeding and abdominal pains alone, while mental recovery could take months or even years. Over 70 percent of the women surveyed said they did not feel emotionally ready to return to work when they did following pregnancy loss.

Meanwhile, close to half of the woman surveyed didn’t feel comfortable disclosing their miscarriage to their employer, and of those who did, two thirds needed to use sick leave to take time off. Another 20 percent took unpaid leave, while the remaining women tapped into their paid annual leave.

Essential medical-related tasks required after a miscarriage

Despite the heavy mental toll, the women indicated they would have taken ten days off on average if there was no impact to their career or financial situation.

According to women’s health GP Jana Combrinck, providing just two days of bereavement leave sends the message that a miscarriage is an insignificant life event. “It implies that a woman should ‘get over it,’ and be ready to move on within that time frame. This minimises the impact of miscarriage and further invalidates the woman’s experience which can be very psychologically damaging to the individual, their family and greater society.”

What women wanted more time to do

While the campaign ultimately aims to raise awareness and bring about further legislative change, Liu told Business News Australia that they started with businesses as they were in a position to make the most  immediate impact. “We really want to use the voices of businesses and the voices of the employees in those businesses to have a conversation with government and show this is actually something people want to get behind.”

So far, over 70 companies have joined the movement, with many going beyond the suggested minimum entitlement of ten days, including Kin Fertility itself and parent Eucalyptus, which offer three weeks of paid compassionate leave in the event of a miscarriage within the first12 weeks, and twenty weeks thereafter for a pregnant employee who suffers a pregnancy-related illness or pregnancy loss due to miscarriage, termination or still-birth.

While sensitive employee leave entitlement policies are not always publicly detailed, or kept updated online, a brief survey of the web-pages of Australia’s largest consultancies suggests some have already been making moves. Deloitte recently instituted a range of new parental initiatives, including ten days leave for miscarriages, while KPMG extended their compassionate leave for pregnancy loss last year. EY appears to offer five days of paid leave.