The German supermarket chain, Lidl Ireland, has introduced compassionate leave for employees who have experienced or been directly impacted by early pregnancy loss or miscarriage.
Possibly the first company across the island of Ireland to introduce such a policy, the retailer will offer three days at full pay to all employees, regardless of gender and including those engaged with a surrogate mother, who have experienced early pregnancy loss or miscarriage.
"The silence around early pregnancy loss has forced many to cope with it alone and we want to ensure that we help to lift that silence and offer support for all those who have experienced this loss," said Denise White-Hughes, head of employee relations at Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland.
About one in four pregnancies end in early pregnancy loss or miscarriage in Ireland. Currently, employees who experience a miscarriage often take sick leave and then return to work without discussing the reasons why they were off. There is no entitlement to statutory maternity leave in Ireland up to and including the 24th week of pregnancy.
White-Hughes, who has experienced three miscarriages herself, said that “we want to acknowledge that people who experience early pregnancy loss or miscarriage are bereaved and not sick. We also want to support employees to have safe conversations and to listen to what they need.” To this end, Lidl Ireland will offer 24-hour access to the employee assistance programme for mental health, up to five sessions with a professional counsellor and the opportunity for employees to speak to a colleague about their pregnancy loss if they wish.
Deirdre Pierce-McDonnell, chairperson of the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, welcomed Lidl's move to extend their compassionate leave policy to employees who have experienced or been impacted by early pregnancy loss or miscarriage. "It opens up the door for people to talk about it to their line managers without stress. Miscarriage and early pregnancy loss is so personal that people can feel awkward taking to their managers or colleagues about it. Recognising the silently grieving can only be beneficial to us as a society [so we can] start to remove the stigma surrounding early pregnancy loss and miscarriage," she said.
White-Hughes said that she used sick leave when she experienced her own miscarriages. “I had my three miscarriages after the birth of my daughter, Elise who is 2½ now. I was lucky in that I have a good relationship with my manager so I was open to her about it.”
She said that when high-profile women such as Pippa O'Connor, Síle Seoige and Megan Markle speak publicly about their miscarriages, it makes other couples feel less alone in their loss.
Pierce McDonnell said that the Miscarriage Association of Ireland would like to see other companies introducing miscarriage and pregnancy loss into their compassionate leave policies. “Hopefully, Lidl will be the first of many companies taking this into consideration and we would like the Irish Government to bring forward legislation on compassionate leave.”
Currently, many companies offer paid or unpaid compassionate leave following the death of a close family member although this remains at the discretion of the employer as it is not a statutory right in Ireland. In March 2021, New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to introduce legislation allowing a minimum of three paid days of bereavement leave for parents and their partners after a miscarriage or stillbirth. The legislation also applies to those who had planned to have a child through adoption or surrogacy.