Cabinet Office ‘needs to step up for civil servants who suffer pregnancy loss’

Union says official HR policy does not guarantee parental bereavement leave after miscarriages within 24 weeks of pregnancy
Photo: Mirra (Kristin Jona)/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The FDA union has written to the Cabinet Office calling for a formal policy to offer time off and support to civil servants who suffer pregnancy loss.

The union, which represents senior civil servants, is also urging Civil Service HR to rectify its existing policy, which offers no parental bereavement leave if a pregnancy is lost within the first 24 weeks.

“We’re calling on CSHR to work with us to create a pregnancy loss policy that would empower managers to grant paid time off – for both parents – following a miscarriage. We’re also keen to collaborate on creating a peer-support system and ensuring that signposting to professional help, and training for line managers is robust and effective,” the letter, penned by FDA equality officer Victoria Jones, reads.

Jones said the Cabinet Office should follow the lead of private employers such as Monzo Bank and Channel 4 that have introduced policies entitling staff to two weeks’ paid leave after a miscarriage, along with for paid time off for medical appointments, a commitment to flexible working and professional and peer support.

“The introduction of these policies... not only encourages a culture where pregnancy loss can be discussed, but also creates a more equal footing, as both parents fall under the provision of the policy. This is a huge step towards parental equality and the impact of such a progressive move should not be understated,” Jones wrote.

Under UK law, employers must provide up to two weeks’ statutory parental bereavement leave to employees who lose a pregnancy after 24 weeks – paid at £151.97 a week or 90% of someone’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Civil service HR policy does not explicitly guarantee any time off before this point, but notes that civil servants “may need to take time away from work to recover from your loss”. Managers will consider requests for special leave “sympathetically”, it says.

“If you take sick leave, your manager will support you through the normal attendance management process. For the two weeks following your miscarriage, any sick leave you may take will be recorded but will not count for attendance management purposes,” the policy adds.

Writing for CSW today, Jones – who had a miscarriage earlier this year – wrote: “We know that having explicit provisions for paid time off or special paid leave can really remove the barriers to people taking time away from work when they need it. Adding any levels of bureaucracy or the need for senior decision making can put people off asking.

“It’s not about forcing people to have time off but rather having the time there as standard, with the option to opt out.”

And in her letter to the Cabinet Office, Jones noted that its policy also “fails to acknowledge the impact pregnancy loss can have on partners too”, stressing that support and time off must be available to both would-be parents.

She said an estimated 150,000 working women will have a miscarriage each year, according to research by the charity Maternity Action.

“This significant statistic – which is impacted by under reporting and reluctance to talk about the issues regarding pregnancy loss – indicates that a notable proportion of civil servants, both women and their partners, will be impacted by this all-too-common occurrence,” Jones wrote.

“The impact of miscarriage on an individual is hugely personal and everyone will respond differently. There is an opportunity now for civil service employers to proactively create an environment which supports women and their partners and is more open, inclusive and progressive. Work with us,” she said.

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