As many as half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Even though 87 percent of women have experienced a miscarriage while employed, an alarming number of women aren’t aware that the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for time off from work after a miscarriage and stillbirth.
These were the findings from a survey conducted by InHerSight in partnership with Evermore. InHerSight uses data to help women find employers and companies that support women’s goals and needs. This survey, conducted earlier this year, included 1,300 women, with the goal of assessing their awareness of their right to time off work under FMLA after experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Survey results were striking, with 77 percent of respondents indicating they were unaware they had access to this protection. Sixty-six percent of these women reported that they hadn’t been informed by their employer of their legal rights regarding leave under FMLA, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if the employee is unable to work because of his or her own “serious health condition.”
While miscarriage and stillbirth are not specifically included in the definition of “serious health condition” in FMLA, Department of Labor statements and other legislative documents indicate miscarriage is covered by the policy. A woman whose pregnancy ends in miscarriage should be able to use FMLA leave if she’s unable to work due to physical recovery or emotional distress.
Even so, 91 percent of women who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth while employed reported taking no days off work to recover. Ninety-eight percent of the women surveyed reported not filing for leave under FMLA after experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth. [Read more about InHerSight’s findings here.]
“Knowing federal leave benefits should not be the responsibility of a newly grieving woman or family. Employers have a tremendous opportunity to provide a supportive workplace environment by ensuring that women are aware of their rights.”
As Evermore seeks to learn more about the realities of bereavement in the United States, and the impact of those realities, partners like InHerSight play a crucial role in gathering data and identifying areas in need of policy change and community support. Evermore partnered with InHerSight for this survey because of the company’s dedication to women employees and their benefits and well-being in the workplace.
“Partners like InHerSight are critical in facilitating transformational social policy,” Mulheron says. “Bereavement is ubiquitous. Understanding the impact, collecting data on the family’s perspective, and then shining a spotlight on those experiences requires leadership. We are grateful to InHerSight and others who are advancing bereavement care in America.”
The findings from this survey indicate how important it is for workplaces to provide effective education and communication that cultivates a supportive environment for employees experiencing bereavement. At Evermore, we believe it is crucial that employers take greater initiative to inform their employees of the benefits and protections available to them.
Benefits should be communicated through employee handbooks, during onboarding and orientation trainings, and throughout the duration of a worker’s employment. When the time comes for employees to exercise their benefits, employers should be prepared to guide them through the process and direct them to human resources (HR) for further assistance.
Employers must also work hard to create a culture in which people can bring personal and emotionally challenging issues to their directors, managers, and HR personnel. To further support an inclusive workplace culture, Evermore also recommends that employers institute five days of paid bereavement leave for all employees.
“According to the Department of Labor, only 56 percent of America’s workforce qualifies for FMLA benefits,” Mulheron says. “That leaves millions of women working in the gig economy, in small employers, or as solopreneurs who have no benefit at all.”
In 2021, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced legislation that aims to raise awareness about pregnancy loss and provide paid leave benefits for workers experiencing the pain of a miscarriage or stillbirth. The Support Through Loss Act supports bereaved workers by increasing access to workplace supports and access to resources and adequate care.
“Pregnancy loss should be met with care, compassion, and support. It is a common experience, but many struggle in silence due to the lack of awareness and cultural stigma,” says Pressley in a press release detailing the legislation. “Our bill sends a message to families that they are not alone.”
It is also imperative that employees know how to advocate for themselves in order to access the benefits available to them. If you are unaware of the benefits at your workplace, ask your manager or an HR representative to guide you through company policy. Evermore encourages readers to communicate their knowledge with coworkers, improve awareness in the workplace, and work together to create a workplace where benefits are a continuous topic of conversation.