Many life events involve grief that can temporarily inhibit employees from performing in the workplace. Bereavement leave is defined as paid or unpaid leave that’s made available to a worker at the time of death or funeral of a member of that person’s immediate family. While this has not always extended to pregnancy-related outcomes, miscarriage and still birth are now being included as covered circumstances for receiving paid bereavement leave in some parts of the world.
Allocating time separately from sick leave to be with loved ones and process the difficulty of losing a child is extremely important to women, their partners and families. Read on for a better understanding of how this leave policy affects those expecting and how to advocate for positive change.
Current state of US bereavement leave policy
There is presently no law in the US granting workers the right to paid or unpaid leave for grief trauma, and time off is ultimately left up to the discretion of employers. When granted, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that three days is common for a death of an immediate family member and just one day for additional family members.
Bereavement leave can often get confused with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), stating employers are not required to pay staff for time not worked to attend a funeral, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year (with health benefits held in tact), pending the worker is eligible and the reason is viewed as valid, such as welcoming a new child.
The problem with FMLA in this regard is that it only covers live births or the addition of a child into a family, whether one or more employees is the biological parent caring for a newborn (including surrogacy), or is taking in a child via adoption or the foster care system. But just as new life brings needed time, privacy and adjustment for caretakers, the loss of life should be held in the same regard with parental bereavement.
New Zealand Extends Paid Leave for Miscarriage
New Zealand’s Parliament recently enacted the Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage Bill that gives biological parents, their spouses or partners and primary carers three days paid bereavement leave following a miscarriage or a stillbirth before tapping into sick days or vacation time. The bill covers all weeks of pregnancy, specifying miscarriage as the unintended end of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks, and a stillbirth as 20 weeks and beyond.
Labour lawmaker Ginny Andersen, who saw the bill through three separate readings before being signed into law, is advocating for the entitlement of fairness and workers’ rights. She also hopes the bill can drive conversation concerning miscarriage leave, as approximately 20,000 women experience a miscarriage in New Zealand each year, and how caring for mental health contributes to the well-being of society as a whole.
Speaking in Parliament, Andersen called on lawmakers to encourage openness and compassion surrounding pregnancy loss and the death of a child. “We should not be fearful of our bodies, or shroud them in mystery, it is simply part of life,” she said, “There are some [employers] who are making employees use up their sick leave at a time of loss and that is callous and that is wrong because the grief that comes with miscarriage is not a sickness, Mr. Speaker, it is a loss and that loss takes time.”
What can you do to fight for your rights?
New Zealand is one of the first to pass a paid parental leave policy for miscarriage and stillbirth, but the world remains hopeful they will not be the last. While the US includes miscarriage and a stillbirth as a legitimate use of unpaid bereavement leave, you can still use your voice to advocate for more—because those grieving deserve it!
Petition Congress to amend the FMLA. There are many online petitions you can sign, or you can even start your own!
Contact state legislators via social media and email. While a sole email may seem like a needle in a haystack when it comes to writing about issues, there are ways to get your legislator’s attention:
Get a group of people to send separate emails on the same topic at the same time. This can help flag the issue as currently important to constituents.
Send emails at night or on weekends when there is less competition from other correspondents.
Include personal sentiments of why this issue is important to you, your community, or a personal story of how you have been impacted by the concern at hand. You should aim to give an account that will move the minds, hearts and votes of lawmakers.
Attend a virtual town hall meeting and submit a question early on (within the first five minutes) to have a better chance of it being addressed.
Start a conversation in your workplace. Just because employers are currently not required to offer paid leave does not mean they won’t be open to modifying their policies in the future. Contact your HR department to get the ball rolling.