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Beverley Sunderland, Managing Director of Crossland Employment Solicitors, advises on ways employers can support employees who have babies needing neonatal care in advance of legislation expected later this year.
A new statutory right to up to 12 weeks’ paid time off work for parents of children who have spent at least a week in neonatal care is being introduced by the Government via a Private Members’ Bill. This seems to be how Government is introducing all of their new legislation.
In July 2019 the Government published a consultation, Proposals to Support Families, a part of which canvassed the idea of introducing neonatal leave and pay. The 2020 budget saw confirmation that this would be going ahead and the Government has responded to the consultation. It was thought that this new entitlement would be included in an Employment Bill. However, the government has instead decided to support a Private Members’ Bill – the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill. This is an enabling Bill which empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations so precise details are, as yet, unknown. There’s no timetable for implementation, but 2023 looks likely. (The House Commons Library has also published a useful research briefing on the Bill).
Currently, parents of a baby in neonatal care must rely on their existing statutory leave entitlements to enable them to be off work while the baby is in hospital. The consultation asked for views on the design of this new entitlement; associated practical considerations; and the implications for employers and employees. Specifically, it asked about eligibility and qualifying conditions, the length of entitlement and when the entitlement can be taken, notice and evidence requirements and employment protections and parents’ right to return to the same job.
The Government’s approach is as follows:
For the time being employers can show some flexibility in terms of additional paid or unpaid time off and also if a neonatal baby is in hospital for a significant period of the employee’s maternity leave then they may want to discuss alternative arrangements, such as the mother continuing to work (once the two-week compulsory maternity leave has passed) in return for a longer period of maternity leave when the baby comes home from hospital or unpaid leave at the end of maternity leave.
Is a maternity leave policy enough?
A maternity leave policy is a good starting point, but an employer should consider all possibilities (many policies already talk about the very difficult situation when a baby dies but few talk about babies in hospital for significant periods) and build in flexibility – it is important that all employees are treated consistently in situations like this.
What do some employers offer that goes over and above standard provision?
If your employer has private health cover/helplines or counselling services check to see if this will cover support for parents of neonatal babies. Employers can also consider extending maternity leave to enable parents to take more time with the baby when they are out of hospital and flexible working for the partners to enable them to visit the baby in hospital.
*Beverley Sunderland is Managing Director of Crossland Employment Solicitors.