Returning to Work After a Birth Injury
Around 30,000 women experience a birth injury each year, according to recent research from The Birth Trauma Association (BTA)1. Whether an expectant mother has experienced an early miscarriage or a still birth, the return to work will inevitably be an unsettling and emotional process. The after-effects of a birth injury are likely to impact how the employee interacts with colleagues and completes work, so it’s important to not rush the process and to be aware of the support that’s available.
Here, Vince Shore, Head of Clinical Negligence at Hudgell Solicitors, advises women and their employers on returning to work after a birth injury.
Know your rights
If a mother suffers a neonatal death (where the baby passes away shortly after the birth) or a still birth (where the baby is born sleeping after 24 weeks of pregnancy), they are entitled to their full maternity leave. They may also remain eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay.
Miscarriages (before 24 weeks) will not give rise to maternity leave or pay but the mother will still have to deal with the loss of her unborn baby and may need to go through a grieving process. In this instance, women should have an open and honest conversation with their employer as to how they feel about returning to work, so necessary steps can be put in place.
Although some women may be keen to get back to the workplace, for many it is a daunting thought. Following a birth injury, employers should make their best efforts to be considerate of an individual’s grief and personal circumstances. To ease the transition, employees returning to work can ask for flexible hours, work from home options and even apply for unpaid leave. Although there is no set law or guidance on whether employers should grant such flexibility, managers should be mindful of the trauma and pain of the employee and progress their requests to the best of their ability.
Be open to change
When returning to work after any period off, it is always possible that a job role has changed or developed slightly. Someone that was covering your job may have been kept on permanently, meaning your role has taken a new direction. When making any major changes, the employee should be informed and updated prior to their return to work. If there are any major concerns or grievances from the individual, there are formal processes and legal actions that can be taken.
Women returning to work should try to communicate with their colleagues as much as possible, as they may have no way of knowing that the person has suffered a major loss. Employees can either confide in colleagues with how they feel or simply let them know if they would prefer not to talk about it and want to work in silence. A bereaved parent may find things at work will trigger emotions or feelings they’ve not experienced previously, so employers should be aware of this and avoid putting pressure or time constraints on the individual.
On some occasions, the thought of going back to work is worse than actually being there, so it’s important for employers to ease this anxiety with thorough communication prior to their return. Organising a team social or a ‘phased return’ will help the employee returning feel engaged with the rest of the staff and make their first day back easier when it comes around.
Whether being back at work eases a bereaved parent’s pain or temporarily triggers new emotions, employers should recognise and respect what they have been through and do their best to support them through this difficult time. Where possible, employers should be flexible, offering a phased return or reduced schedule whilst the employee adjusts to their new routine. When addressing sensitive issues, communication is key and having an open-door policy with staff will help them feel at ease and supported.