Progress update: Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill
It’s hard to imagine finding yourself in the impossible situation of having to decide between staying at the bedside of your sick baby or having to return to work in order to provide for your family, however this is the dire situation which some parents find themselves in.
Neonatal care is provided in neonatal units for babies who are born prematurely or unwell. For some parents, this means being deprived of things that most take for granted such as holding and feeding their baby and the devastating impact of this cannot be underestimated. Add to the equation the worry about returning to work and lack of financial security, and it is clear that change is needed to offer legal support to those parents (who currently have no support).
Although not every baby admitted to neonatal care will need to be there for a substantial amount of time, for babies born before 27 weeks, the average length of stay is 92 days, and for babies born at 28-31 weeks, it is 44 days. This means that, for some parents, a substantial amount of their maternity/paternity pay/leave is ‘used up’ weeks before their baby’s due date. In order to stay at their baby’s bedside or care for them once they are allowed home, sometimes requiring additional support such as oxygen, many parents currently have to take unpaid leave or even have to give up work altogether due to pressures from their employer to return to work. This results in financial strain in an already traumatic situation. Bliss, the leading UK charity for babies born prematurely or sick, carried out research that found that:
- One in four families had to borrow money or increase existing debts due to their baby’s neonatal stay
- More than half of families said their finances affected their ability to spend time with their baby
The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill was introduced as a private members’ bill to parliament by SNP MP Stuart McDonald and has now passed its second reading. The Bill, once approved, will allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave in addition to their other parental leave entitlements if their baby is cared for in a health setting for more than 1 week before they reach 28 days of life. This will be a ‘day one’ right meaning that it will be available to all employees from their first day in a new job.
If this Bill is approved, it will provide much needed support for families in need who for so long have felt their voices have not been heard and for employers who have wanted to support their employees through such difficult situations but have lacked the means to do so.
Although this Bill will not remove the emotional and mental strains that come with having a premature baby, it should at least allow parents to put money worries to one side and instead concentrate on caring for their families.
What does this mean for you or your business and what do you need to be doing now?
Although the Bill still has some way to go before becoming law, it is something that employers need to prepare for. Policies will need updating to reflect the changes. It will also be key for employers to ensure that if one of their employees finds themselves in this situation, they have an open line of communication to ensure that they are supported through what can be the most difficult time of their lives. Employers should take time to understand the needs of these employees and how best to support them, eventually, return to work.
It is unlikely that the Bill will be passed by 2023, and we currently expect to see this in 2024.
Having only experienced second-hand through a special family the traumatic impact of having a premature baby, I would recommend visiting the Bliss website in order to try to get a grasp of what your employees who may be in this situation might be experiencing.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.