Did you know that, legally, you could be allowed to take time off after having a miscarriage? You might not need or want to, but depending on your circumstances, you might have the right. Most women don't know that.
Even though as many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage, many women aren’t aware that miscarriage leave is covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), nor do they know how to advocate for those rights.
In partnership with bereavement advocacy nonprofit Evermore, InHerSight surveyed more than 1,300 women about their knowledge of miscarriage and stillbirth rights at work (note: in the policy world, miscarriage and stillbirth are often used interchangeably). According to the survey results, 77 percent of women aren’t aware that people who have had a miscarriage are eligible for leave under the FMLA, 66 percent of women who’ve had a miscarriage or stillbirth while employed haven’t been informed of their legal rights regarding leave, and 91 percent of women who’ve experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth while employed had zero days of leave.
As we continue to push for more inclusive and accommodating workplaces, it’s imperative to encourage women to take care of themselves, physically and mentally, and take advantage of their workplace rights. It’s also important that women are told what their rights are in the first place.
What kinds of rights are women entitled to under the FMLA?
As the data above indicates, many women don’t know leave for miscarriage is covered by the FMLA, so let’s take a second to understand what and who is covered.
FMLA states that eligible workers have the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for serious health conditions—miscarriage and stillbirth are considered a serious health condition related to pregnancy. If you work for an employer with 50 or more employees, you’ve worked for your employer for at least one year, and you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before your miscarriage, you’re eligible to be covered and protected by FMLA.
Plus, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), employers can’t treat employees affected by pregnancy-related medical conditions, like a miscarriage, differently from other employees. If your employer treats you differently because you’ve miscarried, this is a direct violation of the PDA. Your employer also can’t fire you, demote you, decrease your hours, or penalize you in any way for having a miscarriage.
These are super important facts for women to be aware of and understand, especially if their employer doesn’t offer any type of bereavement leave. Yet, Joyal Mulheron, executive director of Evermore, says “Employers are missing opportunities to educate employees about the fact that the FMLA allows leave for a woman who’s grieving the loss of a child due to miscarriage. These are especially painful losses for women, and employers can, and must, do better.”
The availability of FMLA protection for a woman who’s had a miscarriage should be something that employees know about on day one of their employment or even during their onboarding process.
“Supervisors are especially important. Often, they are the sole liaison between the employee and the company,” she says. “We will continue to raise the visibility of this issue among employers, but behavioral and corporate culture change takes a long time. We will continue to support employees who want to cultivate a supportive workplace grieving employees.”
How women can speak to their managers about miscarriage in the workplace
Miscarriage is a deeply personal experience, and it’s up to each woman to decide how much information they want to disclose with their coworkers and employers. It can be helpful for your manager to know that you’re going through and processing something traumatic, but you might choose to grieve privately, and either way, it’s up to you.
Consider these questions when deciding if and how much information to share:
Is my ability to effectively do my job compromised right now?
Do I need accommodations or time off at work?
Can my boss or coworkers be a source of support?
Aside from your manager, if your other coworkers knew you were pregnant, you might feel obligated to have more conversations. If you feel uncomfortable or aren’t ready to talk about it publicly, you can ask your manager to tell your team. Be honest and direct about how you’d like to address your loss moving forward and what kind of help you need. If you want to let your manager know that you’re struggling but don’t want to fully disclose everything, you can say something along the lines of, "I’m going through a difficult health situation."
Mulheron emphasizes the importance of advocating for yourself and taking care of your health: “Be relentlessly kind and patient with yourself. Find supportive people who can help you identify your needs or advocate on your behalf, and seek the advice of trusted organizations or professionals, like therapists, to navigate this process.”
Three examples of how to disclose a miscarriage
1. “I wanted to let you know that I recently had a miscarriage, and I’ll need to take some time off work. If you could share this information with the team on my behalf, I’d really appreciate it. Please let them know how much their support means to me, but also tell them I’ll need some time before I’m able to discuss it in the office.”
2. “Unfortunately, I recently lost the baby. I checked the employee handbook but couldn’t find any information about bereavement leave. Can you let me know if this is available? I need to take some time away from work to be with my family as we cope with this loss.”
3. “I’m a private person, but I want to be transparent since you may have noticed I haven’t been my usual self the past few days. I recently had a miscarriage, and I need to take some time off to cope and rest. I hope you understand my need for privacy at this time, and I’m hoping you can walk me through our company’s policy on leave.”
You should try to go into the conversation with some housekeeping things in mind—in other words, your idea of how the plan will work. How long do you think you'll be gone? What big projects do you think need covering? How would you like the news communicated—or not communicated—to the team? Will you need help finding mental health resources? Do you feel confident that you understand all benefits offered by your employer during this time?
How managers can discuss miscarriage appropriately in the workplace
Knowing how to address and respond to conversations about miscarriage as a manager isn’t easy, but it’s your job to make sure your employees feel safe, supported, and cared for.
Mulheron says that if an employee comes to you and discloses their miscarriage, try to master the art of genuine empathy by listening hard and carefully. Acknowledge the courage it takes for an employee to share their story with you.
Don’t ever try to minimize what has happened—even if it’s well-intentioned—with statements like “you can always try for another” or “don’t worry, you weren’t showing yet anyways.” Avoid taking control of the conversation with a story about your experiences, and don’t ever make assumptions about what they’re going through or how it will impact their work.
Three examples of how managers can respond appropriately to employees who’ve disclosed a miscarriage
1. “I know this is a tough time for you, and I want to be able to support you. Our company policy is _____, and there are options through the FMLA that will give you additional time off. Let’s talk about what you and your doctor think works best. Or would you like to speak to human resources instead?”
2. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Do you need some time away from the office? Our company policy is _____, and there are more leave options provided through the FMLA. Let’s talk about what’s on your plate and how we can divide it up.”
3. “My deepest condolences to you and your family. I want to help support you the best way possible right now. Have you looked into how our health care plan and company benefits could help you find someone to talk to? I’m more than willing to help, and our human resources department can walk you through the FMLA’s leave policy, if you’re interested.”
“If the FMLA is being used, remind the employee that her job will be there when she returns. Don't assume that the employee understands the specifics of the law—take the time to explain what the company benefits are (such as bereavement leave or access to therapy) and how to access them, and make sure the employee understands,” says Mulheron.
“Consider using paid therapy sessions, investing in training for managerial staff on how to talk to grieving employees, offering employer sponsored gifts, chartering the HR department with finding out what other companies are doing, and making support for grieving employees a high priority. The corporate culture is important and should be enculturated by top leadership.”
Plus, some women who’ve had a miscarriage fear being treated differently by colleagues, being a source of gossip, or hearing positive pregnancy news from other coworkers that could trigger their emotions. Ask questions like, “Would you like me to talk to the team for you, or is there another route you’d like to take?” If they ask for you to not spread their news, respect their privacy.
If you’re looking for ways to ease the transition back to work for bereaved employees, Mulheron says employers should explore tips and bereavement leave policy language by taking a look at the information under Evermore’s employers tab on their website. Adopting a fair bereavement leave policy is voluntary and easy to implement, and many companies of all sizes have embraced their importance.
Employers can connect employees with services like grief counselors, set up an employee assistance fund, and learn more about how to create a flexible schedule or reduce hours for employees who are ready to return to work. When an employee is returning, acknowledge that grief is ongoing, make specific offers to the employee instead of a general “let me know if you need anything,” and take cues from the employee.
About our source
Evermore is a national nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making the world a more livable place for bereaved families by raising awareness, advancing science, and advocating for meaningful policy change. They believe in a world where losing a loved one does not alter the health, social, and economic trajectory of a life. To learn more, visit their website at www.live-evermore.org.