Parents facing an early end to pregnancies can be entitled to differing degrees of paid leave depending on where they live, recently published research has shown.
The study reports that in different countries – and different parts of the UK – there is currently a range of inconsistent entitlements to paid leave from work in the case of pregnancies which end as a result of miscarriage, abortion, ectopic pregnancies and molar pregnancies.
Those involved in the research said they were surprised by the range of categorisations in laws about pregnancy and employment, and the complex inclusions and exclusions this creates both between - but also within – legislatures.
And at the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week, they have said their work highlights the need for the scrutiny of any new proposals around employment leave for early pregnancy endings.
Earlier this year, the Government produced a Pregnancy Loss Review which recommended that employers should find ways of supporting people experiencing the end of a pregnancy before 24 weeks.
The new study was not influenced by that work, but the researchers have called on policymakers to carefully assess the consequences of new ideas around leaves for pregnancy endings and to formulate inclusive and fair proposals for change, for example making sure that abortion and termination for foetal anomaly are not forgotten.
Published in the journal Gender, Work & Organization, the research was carried out by academics now working at the University of Plymouth, University of Essex, University College London, and the Open University.
The study’s lead author, University of Plymouth Research Fellow Dr Aimee Middlemiss, has spent a number of years examining the experiences of parents whose pregnancies end early and the many and varied challenges they face.
She is also currently working as part of the largest study to date in the world of a model that aims to improve the quality and safety of midwifery care.

The limited types of employment leave currently available in England and Wales after the early end of a pregnancy are either sick leave, or, in some organisations, forms of bereavement leave. Both of these types of leave make assumptions about the nature of the pregnancy ending and what the experience has involved which may not be suitable. 'Sick leave' assumes a pregnancy ending without a live birth to be an illness, and sidelines people who feel a baby was lost. 'Bereavement leave' sidelines the physical needs of the post-pregnant woman, and may exclude some types of pregnancy ending or those who do not feel bereaved.

Aimee MiddlemissAimee Middlemiss
University of Plymouth Research Fellow, working at the University of Exeter while carrying out research for this study

The paper is the latest to result from the Early pregnancy endings and the workplace project, supported by the Open University’s Open Societal Challenges Programme, which aims to tackle some of the most important societal challenges of our time through impact-driven research.
Study principal investigator Professor Jo Brewis, at the OU Business School, said:
“This research is significant because it is, as far as we are aware, the first to analyse the different inclusions and exclusions generated by laws in England and Wales and around the world regarding paid employment leave and the status of the foetus or baby. We call upon policymakers to carefully evaluate the implications of new proposals regarding employment leave for pregnancy endings."
Dr Victoria Newton, another member of the team who leads the OU’s Reproduction, Sexualities and Sexual Health Research Group, added:
“We want to ensure that any new proposals do not lead to stigmatisation around pregnancy endings, and that employees receive equitable and individualised support that is tailored to their needs, regardless of the type of early pregnancy ending experienced.”
  • The full study – Middlemiss et al: Employment leave for early pregnancy endings: A biopolitical reproductive governance analysis in England and Wales – is published in Gender, Work & Organization, DOI: 10.1111/gwao.13055.
Exterior view of Intercity place

Affected by these issues?

If you have experienced any of the issues raised in this article, you can find a range of support through the University (if you are a current member of staff or a student) or elsewhere.
  • Our Employee Assistance Programme offers University staff, and their friends and family, support on a wide range of issues affecting both their work and personal lives.
  • Our Student Hub offers support and other services to our students as well of details of where to go if you need help or advice.
  • You can also visit the Baby Loss Awareness Week website to find more detailed support and advice.
Cutout paper people