Many employers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to support parents who are affected by pregnancy loss and neonatal care. We look at the current position in relation to leave and pay entitlements for families in these circumstances, as well as plans for future reform.

Miscarriage and stillbirth

Is there a statutory right to leave and pay for miscarriage and stillbirth in the UK?

According to the UK Miscarriage Association, an estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage (defined as the loss of a pregnancy within the first 23 weeks and six days). There is currently no legal entitlement to leave or pay during this period in the UK.

If the loss of a pregnancy occurs beyond 24 weeks, it is classed as a stillbirth and parents qualify for two weeks of statutory parental bereavement leave and, where eligible, pay. They may also be entitled to statutory maternity or paternity leave and pay. An employee who suffers the birth of a living child who later dies (no matter what stage the pregnancy had reached, and even where the child survives for only a very short time after birth) known as 'neonatal death' has these rights too.

As there is no entitlement in the UK to leave or pay for miscarriages, parents typically have to take sick leave, annual leave, or compassionate leave (where offered). The father may also take unpaid time off to care for the mother (who is likely to be a dependant).

This position arguably leaves a significant support gap for those experiencing miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

How does this compare with other countries?

Whilst the UK is not alone in not offering support, it is behind other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and India who provide paid leave. 

Closer to home, Northern Ireland has legislated to introduce such leave by April 2026. 

Are there plans to introduce miscarriage leave and pay in the UK?

A Private Members' Bill, The Miscarriage Leave Bill, has been re-introduced to Parliament, which seeks to give three days' paid leave for parents who have experienced miscarriage, before 24 weeks. It is next scheduled to be considered in September.

Even if the Bill is not passed, the Scottish Government in their Women's Health Plan 2021-24 has committed to provide three days' paid leave following miscarriage for the public sector in Scotland, although it is not clear when this is likely to be implemented. They have also made calls for the UK Government to introduce a similar entitlement UK-wide. 

Neonatal care

Is there a statutory right to neonatal leave and pay in the UK?

Approximately one in seven babies every year require neonatal care after birth. Currently, there is no specific right to paid leave for parents of babies who need care in neonatal units.

Often, parents have to rely on their statutory maternity and paternity leave entitlements to spend time with their baby in a medical environment, instead of using that leave to bond with their baby and care for them at home.

Are there plans to introduce neonatal leave and pay in the UK?

There is currently a Private Members' Bill, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill, making its way through Parliament. On 15 July 2022, the government announced that it was backing the Bill. It will next go to Committee Stage, but a date has yet to be confirmed.

The Bill makes provision for a 'day one' right for parents of neonates (babies who are 28 days old or less) who have been admitted to hospital to statutory neonatal leave if the duration of the admission is for seven consecutive days or more. 

Employees with the requisite continuous service and minimum earnings will also be entitled to statutory neonatal pay. The amount of neonatal leave and pay is expected to be capped at 12 weeks and be in addition to other leave entitlements such as maternity and paternity leave.

What can you do to support employees?

You could review the support you currently provide to employees who have experienced pregnancy loss or have babies that require neonatal care and consider:

  • Implementing neonatal and miscarriage policies - these policies may include providing employees with additional leave and pay to enable them to attend hospital and/or to process the emotional and physical effects of their loss.
  • Raising awareness of pregnancy loss and neonatal care - it is important that your staff (particularly HR and managers) know how to support employees through these difficult times and the first step is often to raise awareness and offer training. Training should aim to educate on pregnancy loss and neonatal care and provide direction on how to sensitively deal with the matter.
  • Signposting resources which offer support - you may have an Employee Assistance Programme which may be beneficial for employees who have experienced pregnancy loss or who have babies in neonatal care. Ensure that employees are aware of the support available to them and how to access it. You may also have Mental Health First Aiders which can assist depending on the employee’s circumstances.
  • Encouraging open conversations with employees about pregnancy loss / neonatal care - this can help to create an environment where employees feel able to discuss or inform you of their experiences / situation, as often they may not feel comfortable doing so. Any information should be treated confidentiality and in accordance with your data protection obligations.

As employees are increasingly reassessing their priorities and their expectations of employers, now is a good time to review your approach in this area. Putting the health and wellbeing of employees first provides a strong foundation for employee relations which, in turn, ultimately drives productivity and enhances employee retention.

If you have any queries in relation to family-related leave then please get in touch with Brodies Employment and Immigration team

Workbox by Brodies subscribers can access detailed guidance and template documents on family-related leave and pay here