New provisions recognise pain of losing a baby

No matter how far along the pregnancy is, when parents lose a baby, the grief and loss is life-changing and profound.

The Queensland Government has introduced new bereavement leave entitlements that specifically include the loss of a baby (for both parents) if the loss occurs prior to 20 weeks gestation (parents losing a baby following 20 weeks are able to access paid parental leave).

This new entitlement is listed in the Special Leave Directive (05/17) under the bereavement section (schedule one). Bereavement leave is two days paid leave and is an entitlement, not discretionary, therefore “approval” need not be sought. While there remains a requirement to furnish some documentation in regard to the loss with this leave type, the QTU is aware that this is more often than not handled with compassion and grace by most.

Where further leave is needed, there remains the capacity for additional paid special leave to be accessed/provided in conjunction with the bereavement leave (this however, is at the discretion of the principal/decision maker).

Why it matters – Mary’s case

Mary (not her real name) lost her baby at 11 weeks, and rang the QTU as her principal had refused her request for special paid leave (compassionate – there is the capacity for principals to approve up to five days per year, per occasion). The principal indicated that as miscarriage was a “medical” event, sick leave was the most appropriate form of leave, especially in light of the ongoing medical procedures relating to the miscarriage.

This decision failed to recognise the grief and loss associated with miscarriage. The sense of injustice was compounded by the fact that it was common knowledge in the school that other teachers had been granted access to paid special leave to attend children’s sporting events and other social activities. There was a known inconsistency in the granting of this leave type by the principal and the staff were outraged that the principal had not supported Mary.

Regional and central office advocacy could not get the decision reviewed, as under the directive, it was the principal’s decision.

The QTU began proceedings to lodge a formal dispute in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, based on the custom and practice of special leave being granted by other principals in similar situations, and also the inconsistent approach to approving paid special leave by the principal. Thankfully the need to proceed with the dispute was removed when an acting principal overturned the previous decision, and the paid special leave was finally approved.

The additional stress and sense of injustice was felt by staff at the school, and Mary was supported by other teachers who had been granted the paid special leave, providing evidence to the QTU to use in the dispute.

A win for families

The decision will mean that women, and families, in Mary’s circumstance will not meet this wall of misunderstanding, and then feel that they have to “go into battle” at a time when they least need any additional pressure in their lives. Importantly, it also recognises the loss of a life, and the loss to the family and parents.

Additional new compassionate leave

Further to the new definition of bereavement, there is also a new category of paid special compassionate leave (two days) for when a member of an employee’s household or family develops an illness or sustains an injury that poses a serious threat to their life. This leave type is also an entitlement.

A copy of the Special Leave Directive can be found at

Penny Spalding                                                                                                             Assistant Secretary - Women's and Social Welfare Issues

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 4, 2 June 2017, p15