New Zealand’s parliament unanimously approved legislation last month that gives couples the right to three days of paid leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth, making it one of the first countries in the world to do so.
While the country had previously required employers to provide paid leave in the event of a stillbirth — when a fetus is lost after 20 weeks — the new legislation applies to mothers who loses a pregnancy at any point, as well as their partners. The majority of miscarriages occur within the first three months of pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The paid leave days also apply to people seeking to adopt a child, parents having a baby through surrogacy, and a former spouse or partner of the mother if they are the biological parent.
Nora Jenkins Townson, founder and principal at Toronto-based human resources consultancy Bright + Early, says the legislation in New Zealand is significant for its inclusion of a broad swath of parents, and making the leave available at any time in the pregnancy, which is significantly different than what’s offered in Canada at a federal and provincial level.
“I don’t think there’s much support [in Canada] and this is one of those issues that a lot of women are just kind of expected to deal with and aren’t really addressed by employers or the government,” she says.
In Canada, women whose pregnancies end before the 20-week mark can receive sickness benefits under employment insurance. If they lose a child after that point, they can receive maternity benefits.
Some provinces allow women who experience pregnancy loss to take maternity leave. Alberta provides 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to women who’ve experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth within 16 weeks of the due date, and Ontario grants 17 weeks of unpaid leave to those who’ve experienced the loss within 17 weeks of the due date.
Saskatchewan offers up to 19 weeks of maternity leave to employees who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth up to 13 weeks before their estimated due date, at a rate of 55 per cent of their weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $595 per week. Quebec women who lose their pregnancy after the 19th week of pregnancy are entitled to a maximum 18 weeks of paid leave, with a weekly benefit from the provincial parental insurance plan of 70 per cent of their average weekly income.
But these leaves are available only for late-stage losses, Jenkins Townson says, which means these options often don’t cover women who experience miscarriages during the first trimester.
Many provinces also have bereavement leaves or compassionate leaves to allow someone to care for a family member, but they don’t include wording on miscarriage or stillbirth. Jenkins Townson says she’s heard anecdotally of Ontario employers approving bereavement leave for pregnancy loss.
Jenkins Townson says employers can support employees who’ve experienced a pregnancy loss by including specific provisions in their paid and unpaid leave policies and respect their right to privacy unless they want to discuss it openly.
“I have never seen it written into a parental leave policy or an employee handbook in general, and I think that would be a good thing to do,” she says. “A lot of the time employees aren’t comfortable bringing something to their employer or they think that if something is not written down in the handbook that the policy does exist so they shouldn’t ask. It would be [good] to . . . just say up front, ‘This is how we deal with this situation.’”