Having a baby should be a wonderful time but there are unfortunately occasions when things don’t always go to plan and this can be a very difficult time for everyone involved. There are over 95,000 premature or sick babies born each year in the UK*. From an employer’s perspective, supporting your member of staff through this difficult time is essential. Here at SAM, we have experienced this first hand and therefore understand how important it is to offer this support.
As an employer, you may be unsure how to approach the situation or what support you should offer. This is obviously experienced by many people and so it is great to see that ACAS have just issued new guidelines on workplace support for parents with premature or sick babies. The full guidelines can be accessed here but we have included a quick summary of the key points below.
- Normally the earliest date that maternity leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the due date, but in the case of a premature birth the Maternity leave starts the day after the birth.
- If the mother is off work for a pregnancy-related illness during the 4 weeks before the due date, her maternity leave will start automatically regardless of agreed dates.
- If possible the employee should still try to notify the employer of the date of the birth as soon as possible to avoid any delays or confusion.
- Unfortunately, employers require a MAT B1 form before any statutory maternity pay can be claimed. If this has not been provided before the birth, delays can be experienced causing unnecessary concern for the parents. Employers should therefore try to request the form as soon as possible after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the situation allows. They may also consider an advance of salary if possible to help in this situation. At this point in time the last thing you want to be thinking about is money and how to pay the bills.
- All communications should be approached sensitively and advice taken before contact if you are unsure.
- Employers should ask parents if they are happy to be contacted and what their preferred method is.
- If possible, the Employer should agree with the parents what communication they would like to share with the workforce or not.
- Paternity leave can be taken within 8 weeks of the birth or of the due date depending on what works best for the family concerned. This may help provide the flexibility needed to look after a sick or premature baby.
- In the worst case, if the baby does not survive or is still born after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the mother is still entitled to 52 weeks Maternity leave, which includes 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay.
- Offering counselling or bereavement support can be helpful during this time. Consider ways this could be offered. For example, FursionHR, our sister company, can offer individual adhoc counselling sessions when required.
- Plans to return to work may be affected and so new discussions should take place at a convenient time.
- Employers need to consider how to support parents visiting hospitals. They could offer unpaid leave, additional annual leave, sick leave or flexible working.
- The Employer should consider any request for flexible working whether permanent or temporary. The guidance is that rejecting a request should only be for a ‘sound business reason’. Make sure you get advice when assessing a flexible working request as contracts will also need to be amended.
- Shared parental leave may help offer the time needed. It can be taken in up to 3 blocks while working in between.
- If the employee does return to work, the employer should consider return to work meetings, welfare meetings and regular one to ones to offer as much support as possible.
- Support should be given for doctor’s or hospital appointments following the birth. An Employer should consider how this leave will be administered in advance, to avoid any extra worry for the parents about how having time off work will be dealt with.
As we mentioned earlier on the full guidance notes can be accessed here and if you need any help with counselling, flexible working policies, handling flexible working requests, holding return to work meetings or updating absence policies please get in touch with our team who can refer you to one of our FusionHR colleagues. They will be more than happy to help, just call 01924 907319 or speak to your HR Consultant.