ACAS GUIDANCE: Employers should try to balance the needs of the business with understanding the pressures facing parents with premature or sick babies
In the UK, there are more than 95,000 premature or sick babies born each year and ACAS has now issued guidance for employers in supporting staff who have given birth to premature or sick babies.
All new mothers are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and this can begin as early as 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. However, if the baby is born early, the maternity leave will automatically begin on the day after the birth. Maternity leave will also be triggered early if the mother is absent from work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks prior to the expected week of childbirth. If a baby is still born after 24 weeks, or if the baby is born alive but subsequently dies, the mother is still entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and the father will also be able to receive paternity leave and pay.
The new ACAS guidance defines premature birth, in accordance with the NHS definition, as those babies born before 37 weeks gestation, of which there are three sub-categories: extremely preterm (before 28 weeks), very preterm (before 32 weeks) and moderate to late preterm (32-37 weeks).
The ACAS guidance reminds employers that a mother’s entitlement to statutory maternity pay cannot begin until a MAT B1 form has been signed by a doctor or midwife and issued and the earliest date on which this will happen is 20 weeks before the expected week of birth.
In some circumstances, the mother may not have been able to obtain the MAT B1 form prior to giving birth, where the baby is born prematurely or if the baby, or indeed the mother, is ill and thus statutory maternity pay will not be delayed until the form is provided. The ACAS guidance suggests that employers, if appropriate, remind mothers to provide the certificate to speed up any payments and also asks employers to consider the additional costs and expenses that parents face at such time giving consideration to providing a loan, advance of salary, or access to any company schemes such as workers or benevolent funds, that may assist with this burden.
The guidance is clear that employers should ask the mother if they are happy to be contacted, how they would prefer to be contacted and be compassionate and sensitive in all communication. Employers should also discuss with the mother whether they are comfortable with colleagues being told of their situation and if they are happy to be contacted by colleagues.
The guidance suggests that employers be mindful of possible ongoing health or developmental issues that may require frequent hospital appointments or make it difficult to find childcare and so should try to balance the needs of the business with understanding the pressures facing parents or premature and ill babies.
Additional considerations that employers should take into account include, reminding fathers and partners of their eligibility for paternity Leave and paternity pay, shared parental leave or any other help and support that they can offer or accommodate such as additional leave with or without pay, unpaid parental leave, sick leave or special leave with or without pay allowing informal flexible working (in consideration of follow up hospital appointments) or formal flexible working.
Leah Waller is head of Employment Law and author of Baby Steps: A Guide to Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay, available from Amazon.
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