HR Expert: Supporting Employees Premature Babies
A few months ago, one of my client’s employees had a baby prematurely and they spent a lot of time in hospital as the baby was ill. I’ve just seen some guidance has been released on this. Could you provide an overview so I can give some helpful advice to clients in the future?

Workplace support for employees with premature or sick babies has been an issue in the spotlight for a few years. Following attention from campaign groups and a Private Members’ Bill, Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has released guidance on how to support working parents in this situation.

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Where your clients have employees with a premature or sick babies, they can consider the following areas:

  • Communicate with the employee sensitively – it may be normal practice to send a congratulatory card on the birth of a child, but this may not be appropriate where the baby is ill. Other methods of communication, such as sending some flowers, may be a more sensitive way of letting the employee know that the company is thinking of them.
  • Inform other staff appropriately – this may be through asking the employee whether they want their colleagues to be informed or whether this should wait until the baby is released from hospital.
  • Consider short-term flexibility on their return – staff who return to work may need future time off to attend hospital appointments or check-ups. Employees may be able to agree with their managers that they can take unpaid time off or annual leave to cover these periods.
  • Agree a temporary flexible working arrangement – in most cases, agreeing a flexible working request makes a permanent change to the employee’s terms and conditions of employment. The employee, however, may only require amended hours over the period of time their child is in hospital so an informal, temporary change can be considered. Although informal, it would be advisable to put the agreement in writing to ensure both parties are clear on the flexible working arrangement, including what happens when the arrangement ends.
  • Remind staff of their right to leave – employees may wish to take a period of unpaid parental leave, holiday leave or agree another form of exceptional leave with their employer. Where the child is released from hospital but then has to return in an emergency, time off to deal with this emergency may fall within the statutory right to time off for dependants.

Having a premature or ill baby in hospital for a period of time is likely to be a difficult and emotive period for their parents. Employers can, however, take steps and consider flexibility to ensure their employees are supported fully during this time.


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