HR Expert: New rights to be introduced for working parents
An employee of my client has recently had a baby prematurely, who has been very poorly. The baby has had to stay in hospital to receive specialist neonatal care for at least a month now. The employee is insistent that there are special rules relating to this, and that they get special leave. Is this correct? My client would like to do something to help them regardless, do you have any suggestions?

Since 2014, the government have been going back and forth on the right to neonatal care leave and pay for parents of very poorly babies. The Bill currently passing through parliament, called the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill, now appears set to become law, although not for at least another three or four years, which would provide for special leave for the employee here.

What is currently in place for parents of very ill babies?

At present the employee has access to either maternity, paternity, or shared parental leave in order to spend time with their baby in hospital. These are available for a limited time and will mean that the time usually intended to build a bond and care for baby will be taken up with hospital visits and the associated stresses and issues.

What will the new right be?

If the Bill is made into law, it will allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave, in addition to other leave entitlements, such as maternity and paternity leave, so that they can spend time with their baby whilst they receive neonatal treatment.

It will be available from day one of employment and will apply to parents of babies who are admitted into hospital up to the age of 28 days, and who have a continuous stay in hospital of seven full days or more.

Neonatal care leave will be paid where the parents meet certain conditions regarding continuity of service and minimum earnings, and likely at the same rate of pay as for other family friendly statutory pay. It’s expected this will follow the same tests already in place for other family friendly rights, i.e. a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service and earnings above the lower earnings limit.

When will this become law?

We are not likely to see this right until 2024/2025, as HMRC and commercial payroll providers generally need around 18 months’ notice for changes that involve the administration of statutory payments. The 18-month period would be triggered when the Bill becomes law, which may not be until 2023, so your client will have plenty of notice.

What your client can do

It is possible for your client to offer some kind of leave and pay, but this is a matter of discretion in accordance with what they can afford. It could be that you client decides to introduce their own version of neonatal care leave and pay, either based on what will eventually be required under the law, or more generous terms, should they see fit (and they are aware that doing this for this employee could create a precedent for others in the same situation).


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