A miscarriage is a pregnancy that ends on its own in the first 20 weeks of gestation, and although miscarriages are very common (affecting about 25 per cent of New Zealand women), this doesn’t mean they’re easy to bear.
Losing an unborn child is a heart-wrenching experience for parents-to-be, and in recognition of this, our government has passed legislation giving couples the right to three days of paid bereavement leave after experiencing a miscarriage.
This leave is also available to couples affected by stillbirth (when a pregnancy ends after 20 weeks).
New Zealand is the second country in the world to offer paid leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth, and here we explain how our government is ensuring that working couples get some time to grieve.
What’s the background to this new entitlement?
In June 2019, Labour Party MP, Ginny Andersen, initiated a Bill to make it clear that the unplanned end of a pregnancy, by miscarriage or stillbirth, would entitle couples to up to three days of paid bereavement leave from work.
She hoped that this paid leave would give women time to come to terms with their loss physically and psychologically, without feeling the pressure to be ‘stoic’ or just ‘get on with life’, and wanted to support the rights of both parents to grieve the loss of their unborn child, without having to use their sick leave to take time off.
In the final reading of the Bill, Ms Andersen said, ‘This is a Bill about workers’ rights and fairness. I hope it gives people time to grieve, and promotes greater openness about miscarriage.’
Who can now take bereavement leave after miscarriage or stillbirth?
In March 2021, Ms Andersen’s bill was passed unanimously into law, and it means that a mother and her spouse or partner can take three days of paid bereavement leave from work.
People who were planning to have a baby through surrogacy or adoption are also eligible for this bereavement leave, if the pregnancy ends by miscarriage or stillbirth.
A former partner or spouse, who would have been the biological parent of the lost baby, is also entitled to take bereavement leave for miscarriage or stillbirth.
How does this kind of bereavement leave work in practice?
Employees become eligible for bereavement leave once they’ve worked for their employer for six months, and there’s no need to provide proof of pregnancy, miscarriage or stillbirth.
Employment New Zealand explains that a person just needs to, ‘Tell their employer as soon as possible when they have a bereavement they want to take leave for.’
Bereavement leave doesn’t have to be taken straightaway after the miscarriage or stillbirth, and it doesn’t need to be taken in three consecutive days, either.
When it comes to payment rates, Employment New Zealand explains that bereavement leave should amount to the person’s relevant daily pay (how much they would have earnt working that day). If this is hard to establish, then they should receive their average daily pay (calculated on their previous 52 weeks of work).
How has the new legislation changed things in New Zealand?
Before Ms Andersen’s Bill became law, employers were required to offer paid leave to parents who experienced a stillbirth (after 20 weeks of pregnancy), but those who had a miscarriage (in the first 20 weeks) had to use their sick leave to take time off work.
Under the new legislation, three days of paid bereavement leave can now be taken, no matter when the pregnancy loss occurs, and couples can keep their sick leave for days when they’re experiencing illness, rather than loss.
Is bereavement leave available when a pregnancy is terminated?
In 2020, New Zealand passed a law to decriminalise abortion, but the paid bereavement leave for miscarriage and stillbirth doesn’t extend to pregnancy terminations.
In this case, a woman may be eligible to use her sick leave to take time off work after having a termination.
How does New Zealand’s bereavement leave for miscarriage compare with other countries?
Ms Andersen has said that the passing of the bereavement leave Bill, ‘Shows that once again, New Zealand is leading the way for progressive and compassionate legislation,’ and although our three day offering to couples is dwarfed by India’s six weeks of paid miscarriage leave for women, we’re in an enviable position compared to other first-world nations:
- In America, there is no federal paid leave for miscarriages
- In the United Kingdom, women have to ask their employer for compassionate leave, use sick leave or annual leave, or take unpaid leave, if they miscarry in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, and
- In Australia, women who have a miscarriage or termination after at least 12 weeks may take unpaid special maternity leave.
Back in New Zealand, Green Party MP, Jan Logie has said that, ‘We have for a long time, through silence and stigma, forced women – primarily women – into actually just pretending as if [miscarriage] hasn’t happened.’
Now, thankfully, that time is over, and couples can take leave from work to heal, cope and grieve after losing their unborn baby.