Every year, over 95,000 babies (or 1 in 8 babies born) are cared for in neonatal units in the UK due to premature birth or sickness. While some pregnancies inherently pose a higher risk for premature birth, such as twins and multiples, there is no guarantee a mother will be able to carry to-term.
Depending on how premature or sick the babies may be at birth, parents might find that their babies have to stay weeks or months in hospital, and some of these babies may continue to be at risk even after being discharged. In some cases, the babies may be transferred to a different or specialist hospital if the treatment or care they require is not available in the area in which they are born.
- Doctors and midwives must issue the pregnant employee the MAT B1 form not more than 20 weeks before the anticipated week of birth. This form should be provided to the employer as soon as possible, as this certificate permits a pregnant employee to claim Statutory Maternity Pay from her employer, or Maternity Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions.
- Pregnant employees and new mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. Under ordinary circumstances, the earliest that maternity leave can commence is 11 weeks before the anticipated birth. However, should the baby be born prematurely, maternity leave will start the day after the birth.
- If a pregnant employee is off work with pregnancy- related complications or pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the baby is due to be born, her maternity leave and pay will start automatically irrespective of what has previously been agreed, and even in circumstances where the employee has only been off work for a short period of time.
- The mother must inform her employer as soon as reasonably possible after she has given birth to provide the date the baby was born, even if the baby was born prematurely or is sick.
What Employers Need to Know:
- In circumstances where a baby is born prematurely or sick, the mother may be unable to obtain and complete the MAT B1 form prior to the birth, which may lead to a delay in the employer receiving the form. Consequently, the mother will not receive Statutory Maternity Pay/Maternity Allowance until the form can be provided, despite the fact that both parents can have substantial extra expenditures at this time (travel, hospital visits, care costs for other children they are unable to care for whilst their baby is in the neonatal unit, hotel costs if the baby is transferred away to a specialist unit).
- Employers should consider that this is a stressful and costly time for their employees, and ACAS guidance suggest that employers should consider helping their employee, where possible, to meet these unanticipated costs by providing a loan, advance of salary, or offering the employee access to any company benevolent funds etc.
- Further, in the stress of everything, the parents may be unaware or have overlooked that the mother’s entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance is based on the provision of the MAT B1 form. Where appropriate, it may be helpful for employers to kindly remind the employee, but employers should consider that any communications should be approached delicately and compassionately so as not to cause additional stress.
- It is important for employers to recognise the birth, but this should be done thoughtfully and appropriately as every situation will be different, and congratulations may not always be fitting. A card to let the parents know the employer is thinking about them at this time may be most appropriate. It is important that, if communication is ongoing between the employer and the employee, that the employer ask the parents what they would like them to tell their colleagues about the situation. Personal details should not be divulged without permission, but the parents may be happy to have support of friends and colleagues.
- Employers should consider flexibility for fathers and partners of the mother, who may need to take time of work or work flexible hours to support their partner and be with their baby in this difficult time. Hospital visits may arise out of the blue and last minute. Where the fathers and partners are eligible, they can take Paternity Leave and Pay 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, to enable them to take their Paternity Leave after the baby is home.
- Employers should maintain an open dialogue with employees even after they return to work, as premature or sick babies may require care after maternity/paternity leave expires in the form of follow-up-appointments, treatment, physical or developmental therapy etc.
In the unfortunate circumstance that the premature or sick baby does not survive, employers and colleagues will need to appreciate that grief doesn’t have predicted stages, and it may affect the emotional, spiritual, and psychological well-being of the parents.
What Employers Need to Know:
- In such circumstances, the mother will still be eligible to take up to 52 weeks of Maternity Leave, if she desires, and up to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay, if she is eligible for pay.
- Where the mother experiences a still-birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or if the baby is born alive but later dies, the mother will still qualify for her full maternity entitlement.
- Where the father or partner is eligible, they will also be able to receive Paternity Leave and Pay if their baby is stillborn after 24 weeks or born alive but later dies.
- The employee may experience ups and downs upon returning to work, and employers will need to maintain an open dialogue and flexibility in considering the needs and health of their employee and what adjustments can be made, for example, working from home or working part-time.
- Employers can prepare for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a clear bereavement policy in place, and by providing their managers, HR teams and selected staff with appropriate training.
If you require assistance in updating your policies and procedures or in supporting parents experiencing premature birth, sickness or bereavement in the workplace, please contact Courtney Janotta at 0113 350 4030 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.