Bill before Parliament would allow bereavement leave for mothers after miscarriages, stillbirths

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

A mother who lost her son in a miscarriage at nearly 17-weeks-old says having three days bereavement leave would have been “amazing” after the first reading of a members’ bill to make that a legal right. 

Napier mother Alison Montaperto-Wells requested bereavement leave from her employer after miscarrying and said the response added to her traumatic experience.

“My manager said, ‘Well, I'll have to check with her because it's not really a bereavement is it, you're sick,’ which I found really hard and confronting,” she said.

She was given one day of bereavement leave and used her last two days of sick leave, returning to working emotionally and physically not ready.

“The response reinforced for me at the time that my baby didn’t count and that’s how I felt at that time and that’s not the case at all.”

Kathryn van Beek’s employers were more understanding after her own miscarriage but it led her to look up what she was entitled to under the Holidays Act 2003 and find out that pregnancy loss was not a reason for bereavement leave.

The law states bereavement leave can be accessed for a child’s death, but Ms van Beek was advised that was up to the interpretation of employers.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for someone who's going through this process and might be really struggling with feelings of grief has to go and have a chat to their employer about whether or not their grief is valid or whether or not that they should be able to take bereavement leave,” she said.

She brought the issue to the attention of Labour MP Clare Curran, who talked to Labour MP Ginny Andersen about it.

“It's a really small change for employers but it could really mean the world for people who go through pregnancy loss.”

Labour MP Ginny Andersen’s bill would see three days of bereavement leave given to women that miscarried or had a stillbirth, and their partner or spouse.

Abortion is not included in the proposal.

Ms Andersen said she’d heard from a woman who had not been granted bereavement leave and had no other leave available.

“She was travelling from the Hutt Valley into Wellington and back each day on the train and so she wanted to be in a safe environment where she wouldn’t be fearful of miscarrying away from home.

“Putting women in positions where they don’t have the support of their families, the ability to grieve and to physically and emotionally comes to terms with what’s happening,” she said.

Ms Andersen said it was about giving parents time to grieve with certainty.

Employment lawyer Charles McGuinness said the change would provide value for employees but the proposed legislation would need to be reformed for clarity on who qualifies.

“How does the proposed amendment relate to the Births, Deaths and Marriages legislation and the definitions that are in there, how does it relate to cultural considerations?” he said.

Ms Andersen said she expects the law change to be in place before the election next year.