A Bereavement Policy Update You Wish Were Only on Paper, But Helps Employees at a Key Time

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By Patty Revis, SPHR

3 minutes

Unity One Credit Union adds miscarriages and stillbirths, plus more days off for any included loss.

It is one of the hardest experiences someone can go through and, quite frankly, one of the least talked about. It does not just affect women but men too. Miscarriage is a traumatic experience for anyone close to the new mother—friends, co-workers and other family members who go through this with her. The excitement from the moment the first home test comes back positive to the devastation when a healthcare professional delivers the terrible news of the loss of the pregnancy.

According to studies cited by the March of Dimes, 10% to 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage before the 12th week. Interestingly a new study released earlier this year by the Boston University School of Public Health shows that the risk of miscarriage in North America may increase by 44% in late August compared to late February, leading researchers to believe there may be a link to extreme heat and pregnancy loss.

It is statistics like these plus my observations of our employees that lead me to seek a way to support them during this difficult time. I knew I needed to do something as I learned of it happening with a couple of my staff. So, this past summer, I approached our CEO and board of directors to make a change to our bereavement policy.

Simple Wording Change Has Big Impact

When our employment handbook was written in 2016, the bereavement policy referenced the loss of an immediate family member and, by definition, included child(ren) and provided for three days of paid time off. This is in addition to days the employee has in any existing sick, vacation or paid time off bank. However, the original policy didn’t specify that an unborn child was considered in the same category as a family (child) member.

And it is easy to overlook such a fine detail. It is a simple change or addition added to the final sentence to state that makes this clear. Our new phrasing is: “For the purposes of this policy, Unity One defines ‘immediate family’ as the employee’s current spouse, child, sibling, parent, and parent-in-law. In addition, a miscarriage or stillbirth is considered to be the loss of a child.”

It is also widely known that not all miscarriages are linear; some happen quickly, and others can take time. We felt that giving our employees the ability to grieve in private, without the fear of whether they had the sick time to cover or not, was well worth any perceived cost to the credit union.

Going a Step Beyond for Employees

So, with our 2023 updates to our handbook, we specified that miscarriage is considered to be the loss of a child and just follow the existing policy. But we didn’t stop there. We also increased the bereavement policy from three days to five days for immediate family members.

I know it doesn’t seem like a huge change, but it made a huge difference to the morale of our staff. From a practical standpoint, it did not cost us anything. We already have that day budgeted to pay the employee. If co-workers learn of the circumstances surrounding someone being out, the tendency is to step up and cover for them, so productivity is not affected.

Since its adoption, this new policy has only been used twice thus far, and it is one of those benefits you really hope in your heart is only something on paper. The clarification alone to our policy is worth the effort, which is minimal at best. It is there if it’s needed—and it means a lot to employees. And it’s an easy way to take care of our people in a time of loss and grief.

Patty Revis, SPHR, is director of human resources of $298 million Unity One Credit Union, Fort Worth, Texas.

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