New Zealand’s 3 days of paid leave following miscarriage- is it really worthy of praise?

‘I’m an advocate for paid family and medical leave because the benefits are massive and forever… there are huge personal benefits to workplaces that honour the obligations of family life, and those benefits turn into social and economical benefits as well’. Melinda Gates The Moment of Lift. 

There’s no getting around the fact that the new measure of 3 days paid leave after miscarriage in New Zealand pales in comparison with India’s 42 days. India have offered women 6 weeks of paid leave to recover from miscarriage since 1961, when the Maternity Benefit Act was first introduced. 

Miscarriage UK law, and teaching

In the UK we have no law around paid leave for miscarriage, nor official compassionate leave for in the case of a death of a spouse or partner. The onus of arrangements for this is down to the employer and the policies they put in place. Many businesses don’t have family friendly policies that acknowledge the grievance of the loss of a pregnancy.

 

For some, returning to work following a loss is helpful as there is ‘normal’ routine and distraction. Others might need longer time to process and heal away from the work environment. 

Teacher Liz (not her real name) suffered two miscarriages before going on to have her daughter. She said that having 2 weeks away from the classroom made it difficult for her to return, as she faced questions from curious colleagues as to where she had been.

 

Last week Assistant headteacher Rebecca Lee tweeted an article she wrote for TES in 2018 ‘Why we need to talk about miscarriage’. In the post, Rebecca writes 

‘… our job demands a lot of us, not just mentally and physically, but emotionally; I don’t think we should risk having teachers coming back into the classroom before they’re ready and before they have the emotional reserves necessary to deal with the challenge of teaching’.

It's a false economy

Liz told me that when women feel pressured to return to work before they’re ready following miscarriage, they will get a doctor’s note. This is problematic for schools, as the outcome is that the member of staff could be off for longer than originally intended, meaning expenditure to pay for supply staff to cover the absent of the teacher. 

This suggests that it is actually a false economy for schools and workplaces not to have a miscarriage policy in the first place. Providing staff with paid leave could help schools save a lot of money in the grand scheme of things; pressuring a member of staff to return to work sooner than when they are ready can backfire resulting in further cost implications of paying for supply teachers.

Paid leave for men after miscarriage

Chris Whitfield started Miscarriage for Men after he and his wife suffered baby loss earlier this year. He he told me ‘Whilst I don’t think 3 days paid leave is enough, I definitely think it is a start in the right direction…I am yet to meet many guys who have been asked how they are, let alone actually given the time to grieve. One guy told me that after calling in sick and confiding in his employer about a miscarriage he and his wife had suffered, the first words out of the managers mouth were “so, when will you be back? We are super busy right now”’.

The recruitment and retention crisis in education

Creating flexible, inclusive and equitable family friendly policies that address miscarriage and other circumstances such as menopause and fertility treatment could help towards improving the recruitment and retention crisis in education. Teachers could feel more valued and therefore more likely to stay in a profession that cares for their wellbeing outside of the school gates when life falls apart.

 

For those yet to enter into the profession of teaching, a family friendly policy promotes a hopeful future and could encourage loyalty.

Final thoughts

New Zealand’s paid leave is not as good as India’s. The new bill implies 3 days is adequate enough time to recover. It does, however, send a message on a globals scale through the precedent they are setting—they see and acknowledge the pain of baby loss.