HR · 8 January 2018

How employers can support parents who have babies prematurely

Baby love is the best of all
The current leave system isn’t thought to support parents who have a baby prematurely
Manchester City football club recently made headlines for their sensitive and understanding treatment of their star midfielder, David Silva. Here, head of advisory at Peninsula Law, Kate Palmer, tells other employers how they can support parents whove had a baby prematurely.

Employees will experience an extremely difficult and worrying time when they become parents to premature or poorly babies.

It is estimated that over 95, 000 premature or poorly children are born each year in the UK, making it highly likely that all workplaces will employ a parent who is undergoing this situation.

David Silva recently revealed that Manchester City football club had given him extended time off due to the extremely premature birth of his son, with the club’s boss declaring: Family is most important.

Another employer, Waltham Forest Council, is supporting the Smallest Things campaign, and will offer their employees an extra week’s maternity and paternity leave for each week their premature baby spends in hospital.

Read more:

An employer’s guide to shared parental leave and pay

Five important employment law issues facing business owners in 2018

The campaign has nearly 140, 000 signatures, and is urging the government to extend statutory leave to support parents with premature babies. Alongside the campaign, the Maternity and Paternity (Premature Birth) Bill is currently seeking an extension of family leave in these circumstances.

The current leave system is not thought to support parents who have a baby prematurely, and statutory maternity leave offers a maximum of 52 weeks? leave. Normally, the earliest leave can start is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, however, if the baby is born early, leave starts automatically the day after birth.

Regardless of how long the baby stays in hospital, the maximum amount of leave cannot be extended. If the baby stays in hospital for many months, parents have a reduced time to bond with the baby once released, and further treatment will also have an impact on this.

Employers can put workplace measures in place to support parents who have babies prematurely, or when their baby is unwell.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) defines a pre-term? birth as one which occurs before 37 weeks, and their guidance for workplaces includes babies who are born which a condition that requires urgent or significant medical attention.

The first consideration for employers is to consider how they communicate with their staff. It is common practice to send the company’s congratulations to an employee who becomes a parent on the birth of their child, however, this may not be appropriate where the child is in hospital, or suffering from illness.

Instead, employers could send a form of acknowledgement which is sensitive towards the parent, such as a card or flowers which let the employee know the company is thinking of them.

In addition, the workplace should consider how they inform other members of staff about the birth. It may be best to get consent from the parents first before making an announcement or wait for news of release from the hospital.

Notifying staff of their rights to time off can be a useful reminder during a time when the employee is likely to be concerned with other worries.



Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.

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