What Work Needs To Know For Parents of ill or Premature babies

Posted: Tuesday September 26 2017

By: Abbie Coleman

Acas has published new advice this week, to assist employers in supporting staff who have given birth to premature or ill babies.  There are over 95,000 premature or sick babies born each year in the UK and most employers don’t really know what to do, nor do the parents affected.

By Jodie Hill

What Work Needs To Know For Parents of ill or Premature babies

I have tried to summarise this here for you all.

What does premature mean?

The NHS defines premature babies as those born before 37 weeks gestation. There are 3 sub-categories of premature babies:

  • Extremely preterm (before 28 weeks)
  • Very preterm (before 32 weeks)
  • Moderate to late preterm (32-37 weeks)

Some babies will be born full-term (37 weeks onwards) but sick.  These babies may have an infection, need treatment for jaundice, or have been born with a condition which makes them sick or means that they require urgent /significant medical attention.  Specialist care is provided for premature or sick babies usually in a specialist new-born (neonatal) unit.  

What is the employee responsible for?

The employee needs to ensure that the MAT B1 certificate is provided to her employer.  This certificate enables a pregnant women and new mothers to claim Statutory Maternity Pay from her employer or Maternity Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions.  The certificate is normally given to the mother around the time of her 20 week scan and it confirms:

  • the pregnancy
  • the expected week of birth
  • or the actual date of the birth if completed after the birth

Payment of Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance cannot normally start until the mother has given the certificate to her employer/the Department for Work and Pensions.

How can an employer support the parents following the birth

There are various things an employer can do to help the parents following the birth:

Sensitively remind the mother about the need to produce the MAT B1 – the mother may have been unable to obtain and complete the MAT B1 form before the birth, for example because the baby is born prematurely or the mother or the baby is sick.  Or due to the stressful situation the mother may have forgotten the need to produce the certificate.  Either way the delay in providing the certificate means that the mother will not receive Statutory Maternity Pay/Maternity Allowance until the form can be provided.

Consider helping the employee to meet unexpected costs by providing a loan, salary advance or access to in-company schemes such as benevolent funds – both parents can have significant extra expenses at this time, for example travel and parking costs connected to hospital visits and care costs for other children they have and who they are unable to care for themselves whilst their baby is in the neonatal unit.

Communicating with the employee is important – but it should be done with care.  Employers should ask parents if they are happy to be contacted and the best way to do this, for example by email, text or phone.  Employers should ask the parents what they would like them to tell their colleagues about the situation – good support for parents can make a big difference and offers of support from colleagues could include:

  • lifts to and from the hospital
  • home cooked food
  • an offer of help with additional childcare

Support for Fathers

Fathers and partners of the mother may also need their employer to be flexible regarding them taking time off as they will want to support their partner as well as be with the baby at this difficult time.  Employers may want to remind fathers and partners who are eligible for Paternity Leave and Pay that they can take this leave within 8 weeks of the actual date of birth or within 8 weeks of the date that the baby was due to be born if they prefer (as some fathers may prefer to take Paternity Leave after the baby is home).

Employers could consider ways in which they could help such as reminding their employee about their statutory entitlement to take parental leave, paternity leave, special leave or accepting a shorter notification period for shared parental leave.

Returning to work

Returning to work can be a difficult time as many babies born early or sick may have been in hospital for a while and parents may be worried or anxious about leaving them.  This particularly applies if they have ongoing health or developmental issues which require frequent hospital appointments or make it difficult to find suitable childcare.  Employers should recognise that the plans the parents had made prior to the birth with regard to returning to work may now have changed.

Employers should try to balance the needs of the business with understanding the pressures facing parents.  Employers can support employees by offering contractual benefits or allowing extended leave, this may be through:

Flexible working

Before returning to work the employee may wish to make a formal request for flexible working.  There are many forms of flexible working, such as:

  • flexitime
  • part-time working
  • home working

Whilst companies do not have to grant every request made by every employee, they should consider those requests properly (not just refuse them). Employers must have sound business reasons, for example cost, capacity, replacement employees etc, for rejecting a statutory request for flexible working.

If a request is granted it would result in a permanent change to the employee’s contract.  This should be communicated in writing to the affected employee.  

However, employers could agree to an informal flexible working arrangement which could help employees settle back into work.  An informal arrangement is whatever the employer and the employee agree between them but employers and parents may find it helpful to set out the new working pattern and the date it will start, and also how long this temporary change will last (or when it will be reviewed).

Additional appointments following discharge from hospital

Following their discharge from hospital, premature and sick babies may need to be monitored and may require follow up appointments with the hospital, another specialist or their GP.  Employees should let their employer know in advance so both parties can be clear how long they will need and whether or not they will be paid.  This avoids confusion and disappointment on pay day where some employers will not pay, or will only pay a limited amount for

Shared parental leave and pay

With my earlier blog you can see the details of Shared Parental Leave. 

As a quick reminder – this can help parents who wish to take time off later on as it enables eligible parents to take leave in up to 3 blocks – returning to work between periods of leave if they wish.  If the parents are eligible for Shared Parental Leave and/or Pay the mother will need to end her maternity entitlement early, or commit to ending it, in order to create leave and pay which can be shared with the father/partner or taken more flexibly.

Men, especially should remember that this exists as not many people are aware of this, still!

My tips

With both men and women, it’s fair to say that the key to a successful return to work is good communication, both ways between the employer and employee, respectively.  A good working relationship between the employee and their line manager is important.  Managers could check on how the employee is managing after returning to work by holding regular review meetings. This will also help with post natal depression and anxiety….. I will be discussing this in more detail later this year in my blogs.

Useful links

The Smallest Things, founded in 2014, is a registered charity promoting the good health of premature babies and their families – https://thesmallestthings.org/

For support for parents with sick of premature babies go to: https://www.bliss.org.uk/

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