In 2017, Jeannie Evanchan miscarried her child at home, her second miscarriage in five years. She started miscarrying on the Wednesday before her surgery was scheduled, five minutes before a client call.
Her team jumped into action, taking care of her calls and deliverables, no questions asked. Later that day, yellow roses arrived at her door, as did personal notes from colleagues that week. The immediate empathetic response was a relief, as were the following days that she and her husband took for themselves to grieve their loss.
By the following Tuesday, Evanchan was slowly integrating back into her daily routine, pushing herself faster into work than colleagues would have, she said. Her agency had provided leave for her reproductive loss, a policy that currently offers five days, but she knows it could have been extended by weeks if she asked.
To her employer, her requested leave didn’t have to be a policy, she says. However, for many employees, specific language in a company handbook about loss experiences such as hers is essential.
“If in 2023 you’re not thinking about women’s reproductive rights, things that they may need time off for, if they need to travel for abortion. [Agencies] have to be thinking and talking about these things,” Evanchan says. “This is our life.”
California passed legislation in October making it unlawful for any companies with five or more employees to refuse to grant a request for leave following a reproductive loss event, effective next year. This applies to any company or agency with a physical presence in the state and in regards to employees that reside in California.
Benefits have become increasingly important for talent at agencies over the past year, PR Council president Kim Sample says, which has pushed firms to improve their offerings to attract and retain talent. The council’s annual “benefits benchmark” study analyzes what benefits agencies are offering.
Out of 94 responses in 2022’s report, 49 agencies offered paid leave for birth complications, including miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Thirty-one agencies did not offer benefits for reproductive loss leave and did not plan to offer any in 2023. Two offered leave in 2022 and planned to discontinue in 2023. Twelve agencies did not offer in 2022, but planned to in 2023. Ninety-nine agencies participated in the study.
The impending law will affect any agency employing a California resident, which will in turn bring into question the options for employees in other states.
“It used to be that the company thought of its center of gravity as the governing law, and that’s not the case with this law, or frankly, a lot of other employment laws,” said Davis and Gilbert partner and co-chair Michael Lasky. “That has been exponentially more important given it’s increasingly common to have a company headquartered in San Francisco and their employees can operate and be the residents of 12 or 14 states.”
California’s law, which goes into effect on January 1, will allow eligible employees to take up to five days of leave within three months of the event pursuant to any existing leave policy of the employer. The five-day leave is limited to four reproductive loss events in a 12-month period, equalling a total of 20 days in a year.
The language of California’s policy and the level of inclusiveness has sparked a conversation about how specific agencies should be in terms of what and who is included under their benefit policies.
“In the past year, particularly with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, [clients] started thinking, ‘How can I be more explicit in my policies to show my support?’” says Davis and Gilbert partner Sharon Cohen. “The way they’ve done that is by making sure their bereavement policy is clear that it also will cover reproductive loss.”
“What they are making sure is that the policy [does not refer to a] woman who has a miscarriage or a pregnancy loss or failed adoption. It’s clear that [it pertains to] employees who suffer from an event,” Cohen added.
The new measure creates a separate category of leave specifically for “reproductive loss,” which includes failed adoption, surrogacies and assisted reproductions and extends to spouses and domestic partners. The decision makes the policy inclusive of a variety of types of families and ways of having a child.
California based agencies
Current California state law allows for five days of bereavement leave in the event of the death of a family member, such as a child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or domestic partner. Many, if not all, agencies maintain some form of a bereavement leave and many have adopted policies encompassing reproductive loss prior to the new bill’s passing.
“Miscarriages are life-altering, often-devastating events and should be treated as such,” says Hotwire head of people and culture for the U.S. Kristin Weddick. Her agency’s policy, which has been in place for years, according to Weddick, encourages employees to take initial allotted bereavement leave of up to five days in the case of reproductive loss, which can be used when losing any person or pet with whom they share a familial connection.
Weddick says her agency’s team understands if employees need more time to process or grieve and is happy to discuss what’s appropriate for the situation. Miscarriages also fall within the firm’s medical leave policy, she said, so there are multiple options when it comes to time away.
Similar to the California law, which Hotwire would be subject to because it is based in San Francisco, the policy is encompassing of both the birthing parent and partner and inclusive of types of reproductive loss.
San Francisco-based Bospar offers three weeks of paid leave after the loss of a pregnancy, for any employee in any state. The agency updated its paid parental leave policy in February to include additional eligibility and three weeks of leave, which extends to spouses and domestic partners.
Following PRWeek’s inquiry, Bospar said that while its employee handbook currently does not explicitly have language about failed adoptions, surrogacies or assisted reproductions, it has inquired to their employment attorney to have it added.
“Bospar’s commitment to women’s healthcare extends well beyond our Stand Up initiative to provide support for women in states where this is limited,” says Bospar principal Tom Carpenter. “This includes three weeks of time off for the loss of a pregnancy and even reimbursement for the move from one state to another if any employee feels uncomfortable with their state’s policy on reproductive care.”
A Bospar employee who was granted anonymity says that she initially underestimated the mental and physical impact that her reproductive health procedure would have. The financial support of paid leave she received from the agency during her experience, prior to the passing of the California bill, allowed her to prioritize her medical recovery, a benefit she is grateful for, emotionally and financially.
“I’m encouraged that this new law will require less forward-thinking employers to show more compassion and flexibility and hope it will prompt states to follow suit,” she says.
Other California-based agencies that offer leave for reproductive loss experiences include Archetype’s bereavement policy, which provides two weeks, inclusive of reproductive loss for both parties, and Autumn Communications’ bereavement leave, inclusive of pregnancy loss.
Agencies with a California presence
The law applies to agencies with any form of presence in California, so firms with offices there will be required to adopt leave options if they don’t already offer them.
Jennifer Bett Communications, which has an office in Los Angeles, has worked to spread awareness about leave and childcare opportunities for employees through its work with client theSkimm. The media company, which is also woman-founded and led, has created campaigns such as #ShowUsYourLeave and #ShowUsYourChildcare to encourage companies, brands and agencies to be transparent about their policies.
theSkimm compiled companies’ social postings, joining the leave campaign, to a database that showcases their responses to a series of questions, including if they support a pregnancy loss leave and for how long.
The campaign launched at the end of 2021, but went viral on social media in early 2022. The database is still updated, the media company confirmed, but the newest information is reflected in the childcare database.
“As an agency run by four moms who have experienced their own paths to motherhood, including loss, we are uniquely tuned into how the reproductive process can affect your work life,” says JBC president and founder Jennifer Bett Meyer. “That’s why it was so important to us to not only establish bereavement leave benefits, but go above and beyond the minimum policies set by current legislation.”
At JBC, employees are offered 10 bereavement days, inclusive of all forms of loss covered under the California law. Beyond bereavement, the agency also offers fertility and childcare benefits.
“Understanding that if we want to keep parents in the workforce, it’s imperative we provide them with the infrastructure for a proper family plan,” Bett Meyer says.
Inkhouse, which has an office in San Francisco, implemented its reproductive loss benefit in 2022. The agency’s founder and CEO, Beth Monaghan, is a longtime advocate for paid leave laws, testifying on the topic at the Massachusetts State House in 2016 and on Capitol Hill in 2018.
The Boston-based firm’s pregnancy loss leave is one of the most expansive, offering two weeks if a loss occurs in the first 20 weeks and 20 weeks if a loss occurs after 20 weeks. The 20-week timeframe is Inkhouse’s standard parental leave, a figure they use to be reflective of the mental shift, Monaghan says, acknowledging as a service organization that an agency’s offering in the market is its people.
“Pregnancy loss is gutting regardless of gender,” Monaghan says. “Honestly, I think that a lot of companies offer this benefit without making it formal. We certainly would have because we offer flexible vacation without hard limits. We decided to formalize it to normalize the understanding that this kind of loss requires time to grieve and heal.”
In terms of what amount of time is adequate, Cohen encouraged companies to be equitable in the time given for varying kinds of loss. Making sure the entitlements are the same will ensure a company isn’t putting a priority on one situation over another, she said.
“It’s important to remember, what is the message we’re sending? If you end up giving more time off to someone who has a reproductive loss later in the pregnancy, are we suggesting that that is more traumatic than if you were to have a reproductive loss earlier in a pregnancy or in an adoption process?” Cohen asks, also posing the question for individuals who chose not to have children, but have an equally significant loss of a family member.
Zeno Group, which has offices in San Francisco and Santa Monica, announced an enhanced bereavement policy in November 2021 to formally include pregnancy loss as a qualifying reason for leave.
The bereavement benefit has been used by employees for pregnancy loss in the past, the agency says, but the policy was updated to ensure all eligible employees are aware the leave is available to them, regardless of when pregnancy loss occurs.
Zeno offers 20 days of bereavement leave in the case of late-term pregnancy loss or miscarriage with additional flexibility as needed. Abortion also qualifies as pregnancy loss under the bereavement leave policy where employees are eligible for five days of leave.
Praytell offers “compassion time off” of up to five days for its employees. CEO Andy Pray says the firm felt calling it “bereavement leave” is too “corporate and cold,” and chose the compassion moniker to be more reflective of the situation.
Evanchan, who serves as a VP of media strategy at Praytell, agrees that the sensitivity to wording makes the concept less jarring for women who are reading the policy so closely related to a personal experience.
“Agencies being transparent overall is something that’s been needed for so long,” Evanchan says. “Once agencies are starting to do it, that obviously pushes others to do it as well.”
Praytell’s five days meets the California requirement for its Los Angeles employees, but Pray says he can’t imagine a situation where more time wouldn’t be approved if one of his employees needed it.
Many other agencies have a presence in California, such as MSL, which has a Los Angeles office, and Real Chemistry, which operates a location in Beverly Hills. The Publicis Groupe agency offers bereavement leave covering the loss of a pregnancy or unsuccessful adoption and Real Chemistry’s bereavement leave similarly includes time off for miscarriages.
Reproductive loss policies are not exclusive to agencies in specific states, such as California, that intend to mandate leave requirements. Ohio-based Geben Communications offers up to two weeks of paid bereavement leave, inclusive of miscarriages, but acknowledges that each situation is different and can be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
The firm does not require an employee to provide details about their circumstance of leave and informs that executive leadership will communicate to client teams for them in their leave of absence.
At the federal level, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) have introduced the Support Through Loss Act into Congress. It would increase access to resources and patient-centered care, providing seven days of paid leave for all American workers who’ve experienced a reproductive loss.
Since laws don’t require leave be paid, Cohen says she doesn’t know if there will be an “automatic jump” to more paid-leave policies in the wake of California’s law. The next wave she says she is seeing is general paid-time-off laws.
Lasky says that his practice has found through research an increase in the percentage of an agency’s net revenue that’s attributable to compensation, including salary, bonus and benefits, which includes paid leave options.
He says firms will consider who these types of benefits are given to based on where they are required to do so and whether they’ll hire independent contractors or part time employees who do not get a full range of benefits.
This article originally appeared on PRWeek.