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Menopause, Period, Miscarriage: Navigating the sensitive world of leave policies – Part 1

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​Giving employees MORE paid time off? Leave it out!

At least, that’s the attitude some business owners adopt. But many companies already offer enhanced leave packages beyond the statutory requirements, and the most forward-thinking are offering unique leave allowances – and getting great results.

In Part 1 of this blog, we look beyond the statutory requirements, taking employee benefits to a whole new level by exploring enhanced leave policies covering traditionally taboo topics.

First up … what leave do you HAVE to offer?

The main types of leave in the UK are:

  •       Annual Leave (otherwise known as Holiday Entitlement) and Bank Holidays

  •       Maternity, Paternity or (Shared) Parental Leave

  •       Sick Leave

All businesses are required to offer this leave in line with statutory requirements set by the government. Employees also have the right to take time off for family or dependants, however there is no legal requirement for this to be paid.

As these types of leave have been in place for a long time, many organisations have chosen to enhance their leave packages. It’s a great way to show commitment to loyal employees, and encourages a diverse range of applicants.

So, if most businesses offer enhanced holidays, sick or parental leave, what can you do to stand out?


Menopause Leave

It’s likely you’ve heard of menopause leave as it’s been all over the news in recent weeks. According to Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Chair for Wellbeing of Woman charity, “Nearly 5 million women aged 50-64 are currently in employment in the UK. They represent the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.”

A recent study published by the Fawcett Society found that 1 in 10 women have left a job due to menopause symptoms. That’s about 333,000 women. 14% of respondents had reduced their hours at work and 8% felt they couldn’t apply for a promotion.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, MP Caroline Nokes, puts it best:
Menopause is inevitable. The steady haemorrhage of talented women from our workforce, however, is not.” (Source: Sky News)

One of the most public announcements came from City Hall on International Women’s Day, where London Mayor Sadiq Khan introduced a menopause leave policy. The policy includes the right to request reasonable adjustments, such as temperature-controlled workspaces, as well as flexible working hours, time off for medical appointments and reduction of duties where appropriate. It goes a step further than covering practical implementation too; making all employees responsible for a general awareness of menopause issues and to challenge inappropriate behaviour or derogatory remarks made by colleagues in an attempt to break down stigma.

Over 600 businesses have signed up to The Menopause Workplace Pledge, demonstrating a commitment to supporting those who are peri- and postmenopausal. Why not get ahead of the curve by introducing a policy now, instead of playing catch up in the future?


Menstrual Leave

Another unique leave policy that is gaining momentum is menstrual leave. Currently in the UK, we are instructed to take sick leave if we require time off work. However, this study found that nearly half of UK employees (47%) reported doing their job when feeling unwell at least one day a week. We’re all too aware of the stigma that comes with taking a sick day.

Elsewhere in Europe though, Spanish politicians have approved a draft Bill entitling up to 5 days paid leave per month for those suffering with severe menstrual pain. It is worth noting that Spain have said the state social security system would pay for menstrual leave, meaning far less financial impact for employers. Spain aren’t alone in offering this type of leave either. Japan, South Korea, India, Zambia, Indonesia and Taiwan all have policies in place already. UK voices are calling for our government to take a similar approach.

One such thought-leader is Bristol-based social enterprise Coexist. Their period policy was implemented in 2016, and includes access to period products, flexible working, breaks in a dedicated wellbeing room, quiet spaces within the office, remote working options, openly tracking and discussing periods and bins in men’s toilets to support their Non-Binary and Trans colleagues.

Menstrual equity charity Bloody Good Period found that 73% of respondents struggled to work in the manner they wanted because of their period. The top reasons cited were low energy (83%), being in pain (79%), less concentration (61%), feeling anxious about leaking (57%) and having to stop work to buy or take medication (50%). Depending on the demographic of your workplace, that could be a significant amount of unproductive hours each month.

If menstrual leave wouldn’t suit your working practices – for example, at We Are Adam we operate an agile work environment so people can manage their time as they see fit – why not explore other options such as providing free period products to help break the stigma? Australia are a great example of simultaneously implementing multiple initiatives at company level to make periods less taboo.

 *BREAKING* Scotland have just announced free period products to tackle period poverty! The first policy of it's kind in the world, it comes at a perfect time as the country is gripped by the cost of living crisis.

Pregnancy Loss Leave

Currently, women are entitled to statutory paid leave if they miscarry after 24 weeks of pregnancy, otherwise known as a stillbirth. There’s no legal requirement to offer leave before 24 weeks, and no support offered to their partners who also suffer significant loss. Should a person not qualify for the existing leave policy, they are required to take either sick or annual leave for recovery.

As pregnancy loss is such a taboo subject, you’ll likely be surprised to hear that among people who know they are pregnant, around 1 in 8 will end in miscarriage. Whilst the exact number is unknown, it is believed that many more miscarriages occur before a person even knows they are pregnant. Other types of pregnancy loss are less common, but include ectopic and molar pregnancies. Baby charity Tommy’s believe as many as 1 in 4 babies are lost in pregnancy or birth in the UK.

On International Women’s Day in March 2022, during a parliamentary debate, MP Angela Crawley declared “It is not sufficient to say that an employee should take sick or holiday leave when they have a miscarriage. It is a grief, not an illness. That person should be allowed the time to grieve, and that should be recognised.” However, almost all bereavement leave policies do not cover pregnancy loss of any kind.

So where does that leave your employees?

Firstly, this is not a new issue. We’re simply talking about it more. Research by Imperial College London found that a month on from experiencing pregnancy loss, nearly a third of women suffer from post-traumatic stress, a quarter experienced moderate to severe anxiety and 1 in 10 had moderate to severe depression.

Despite Angela Crawley’s proposed bill garnering a lot of high profile support, many notable businesses have taken matters into their own hands with a Pregnancy Loss policy. Mortgage lender Landbay were one of the first to introduce such a policy, following their HR Director returning to work after maternity leave and reflecting on the difficult process of conception. Since then many big names have followed suit; Channel 4’s policy, claiming to be a world-first, includes leave for miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion and is not limited to women or those in heterosexual relationships. Other companies currently offering Pregnancy Loss leave in the UK include The Co-Op, Monzo, Able & Cole and Modibodi.

With so many great examples out there, and a strong possibility of legislative leave in the near future, now is the perfect time to consider implementing your own pregnancy loss policy.


Domestic Violence Leave

In the UK, Refuge reported a 60% increase in monthly calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse helpline between April 2020 and February 2021 (aka during pandemic lockdowns). Whilst the impact of COVID has led many organisations to improve their wellbeing and benefits packages, this type of leave is severely under-represented.

Despite UK government calling on employers in 2021 to ensure businesses take steps to spot signs of domestic abuse, there are no specific obligations. In fact, Home Secretary and MP Priti Patel threatens to undermine decades of progress made by the Instanbul Convention by declaring reservations on two articles within the treaty – making it difficult for migrant women to leave an abusive partner where their right to remain statuses are linked. Elsewhere in the world, however, places such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada offer paid domestic abuse leave as standard.

“But why should we get involved? Surely domestic issues aren’t something for a workplace to worry about” is a common challenge to this type of leave. However research as far back as 2017 by Durham University for Vodaphone found that 54% of employers said domestic abuse caused the quality of an employee’s work to suffer, and 56% said it led to absenteeism. According to research undertaken on behalf of the UK Home Office, domestic abuse costs £14 billion in lost economic output each year. An estimated £1.9 billion of this is directly absorbed by employers due to decreased productivity, time off work, lost wages and sick pay.

Naturally following their research, Vodaphone have become UK leaders in offering Domestic Violence and Abuse support but they are not alone. Law firm Linklaters launched its own policy following the increase in reports during the pandemic, offering not only 10 days paid leave, but one-off financial aid of £5,000 that does not need to be repaid. Lloyd’s Banking Group not only offer a flexible paid leave policy on this issue, they recently unveiled an Emergency Assistance service to help people find a temporary safe place in a nearby hotel. LBG also host round table events to discuss good practice and share ideas, and issued a company-wide broadcast to provide employees with invaluable advice and information on staying safe and accessing support during lockdown.


Follow us on social media to stay up to date with our latest news, jobs, and blogs - including the release of Part 2 on 31st August. We’ll be peeling back another layer of leave policies, including pawternity, duvet days, paid volunteer days, unlimited holidays and sabbaticals.

If you or anyone you know has been affected by any of the topics in this blog, we recommend you contact a support group or charity, although we’ll always do our best to support where we can. Links to the charities we quoted are below:

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