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The federal government introduced landmark legislation for employees’ mental health wellbeing after the parliament proposed two days of paid bereavement leave for women who suffered a miscarriage. 

The new policy will cover all employees protected under the Fair Work Act and the partner of a woman who has had a miscarriage.

Last week, New South Wales became the first state in Australia to offer public sector employees miscarriage leave. It also announced special leave for parents who have premature babies.

The NSW policy changes were announced as part of the government’s Respect at Work legislation during the 2021-2022 budget by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, who said the state needed to lead the way on reform in the area. 

The Pink Elephants Support Network

Five-year-old The Pink Elephants Support Network was instrumental in bringing the issue to light. The organisation was established to assist those dealing with early pregnancy loss and reproductive issues. 

For three years, it had been lobbying for an amendment to the Fair Work Act that would allow for paid leave after a miscarriage.

Dynamic Business spoke with Samantha Payne, CEO of Sydney-based Pink Elephants Networks, about the issue in detail and her plans for the future.

Do you believe the new bereavement policy will pave the way for other mental health issues — more specific to women at the workplace — to be addressed?

“I think miscarriage is certainly a women’s health taboo that has been overlooked for too long. It’s closely connected to poor mental health outcomes. It makes good business sense for workplaces to address all issues related to mental health & better support them.

At Pink Elephants, we provide policy support as well as specialised content for workplaces to support their people through pregnancy loss & fertility challenges.”

What’s the plan for the future? Is the Pink Elephants support group aiming to persuade governments and businesses outside of Australia to support this policy?

“Many organisations have approached us in other countries to support their bereavement leave campaigns. If we can in a meaningful way, we will; it’s an incredible ripple effect. It’s also a policy we believe should be available globally to all those impacted by pregnancy loss.”

What were the obstacles you had to overcome during the last three years to achieve the win?

“There have been many obstacles to overcome, but with the right team & engaged stakeholders, we’ve collaborated to overcome them. Having support on the inside from Julian Simmonds — who is a member of parliament for the division of Ryan in Queensland — has helped us put our case in front of the right people. 

“Having a clear evidence base in support took a lot of work, but our incredible pro-bono supporters have helped with this hurdle.”

Corporate Australia leading from the front

Some Aussie companies have stepped up their efforts to promote women’s safety and made changes to their workplace policies in recent years, offering greater support to employees.

One such company, Modibodi — Australia’s leak-proof apparel brand — announced the introduction of paid menstrual, menopause and miscarriage leave for its employees. Its policy allows employees to take additional paid leave days each year for menstruation, menopause, or miscarriage or work from home on days when experiencing difficulty.

Dynamic Business interviewed Kristy Chong, the CEO and Founder of Modibodi, about Modibodi’s vision and how important it is to break the societal stigma associated with typical health issues.

How does Modibodi’s new leave policy reflect the company’s vision?

“Modibodi’s  vision is to break the stigma around women’s health topics and lead discussions to encourage women and men to discuss normal health issues openly.  

“We feel it’s important to raise awareness that some people experience uncomfortable, sometimes severe symptoms during menstruation, menopause or miscarriage.

“We’re acknowledging that every individual’s experience of their cycle is different. We believe having a specific policy helps break down stigma and taboos so people don’t need to lie or feel awkward taking days off when they’re suffering.  

“We introduced the policy as we are committed to breaking down the harmful taboos around menstruation and menopause symptoms. We need to break the stigma that periods are shameful, embarrassing or something to be secretive about.

“Over half the population has had them at some stage of their life, and it is high time we banish the shame associated with something that happens regularly and is natural.   

“Let’s keep the conversation going, so that menstrual self-care becomes commonplace at work, home and school and isn’t seen as a taboo subject. 

“To do this, we as individuals, parents, friends and colleagues need to work together to replace shame with understanding and empathy.”    

As among a few organisations offering such leave policy, how is Modibodi establishing an example for other private businesses to follow? 

“By sharing our experience, we hope that other private organisations open up dialogue internally about how they can support employees and normalise what is a normal, natural or unexpected part of life.

“For other businesses and leadership teams considering implementing this type of policy, I encourage you to open discussion with your workforce to shape what the policy might look like and how it would work in reality.

“For example, who the staff member would need to contact to let them know they were taking a paid menstrual, menopause or miscarriage leave day, and to ensure they communicate that the policy is available for use and not just tokenistic.

“This is a policy that needs to be established genuinely, and with the understanding, people can access it openly when they need it without any stigma or repercussions.”  

What has been the response from employees to the policy?  

“Since the introduction of the menstrual, menopause and miscarriage policy in May 2021, we have received overwhelming support from our team.

“A couple of team members have utilised the additional leave days since its introduction, and it is great to see menstrual self-care being openly discussed.” 

Kristy Chong, the CEO, Founder of Modibodi

Apart from Modibodi, ASX-listed Zip is another company that offers paid leave for miscarriages. All Zip employees, both part-time and full-time, are eligible for the leave. Currently, the company employs over 700 employees globally.

Zip’s parental leave policy provides for 16 weeks of paid leave for primary carers and 4 weeks of paid leave for secondary carers.

Larry Diamond, CEO at Zip, said: “This is a vital policy for everyone at Zip. But this is also about normalising and changing the conversation globally.

“Hopefully, other Australian and international companies will follow Zip’s example and put in place similar steps to support their colleagues.”

Global landscape

For nearly six decades, many countries have extended similar — if not more widespread — benefits to bereaved parents. In March, New Zealand passed legislation giving women and their partners the right to paid leave after suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth.

In 2017, women in India gained the right to six weeks of paid leave immediately following either miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy.

In the Philippines, a woman can take up to 60 days of paid leave if she has a miscarriage at any stage of her pregnancy, including emergency terminations and abortions.

Indonesia offers six weeks of paid leave, and Mauritius offers three weeks for miscarriage and 14 weeks for stillbirth.

The Australian government announced roughly $3.4 billion in new measures in the budget 2021-22 to improve women’s safety, economic security, health, and wellbeing.

As per the gender workplace statistics by Australian government sources, including Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the ABS: 

  • Women comprise 47.2% of all employed persons in Australia.
  • Women constitute 37.9% of all full-time employees and 67.2% of all part-time employees.
  • The workforce participation rate among those aged 15-64 years is 61.2% for women (74.5% in February 2020) and 71.2% for men (83.1% in February 2020)

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