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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 05-Sep-17 11:06:31

Guest post: "New guidelines will help bosses support working parents with premature babies"

Adjusting to life with a baby born prematurely is stressful enough - parents shouldn't have to face worries about their jobs as well, says Margot James MP

Margot James MP

Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Posted on: Tue 05-Sep-17 11:06:30

(12 comments )

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An employer’s responsibility to support their staff does not end a few weeks after a baby is born.

In the UK more than 95,000 poorly or premature babies are born each year. For the families involved, it can be a really stressful time and parents will often have to spend precious hours separated from their newborns, with lots of travelling between home and hospital - all while the mother is also recovering.

At this difficult time, work should not be an added worry. But I have met parents who have been worried about the security of their job when their baby has been born prematurely.

The Government has been unwavering in its commitment to building an economy that works for everyone and a crucial part of that is creating a fair and decent working environment, including for working parents whose child is born prematurely.

In most cases, businesses are compassionate and flexible and I am pleased to say the majority of employers I have met treat their staff with respect.

We expect businesses to be sympathetic to parents who need extra time off for hospital appointments.


But while the UK’s maternity leave system is one of the most generous in the world, I have heard first-hand the concerns of working parents. I am determined they know and make full use of their rights and that employers should be fully equipped to offer their staff the support they need.

That’s why I asked workplace experts Acas to draw up new and comprehensive guidelines to provide that peace of mind to both workers and employers. Guidance published today includes advice on everything from offering financial support to parents paying extra childcare costs to highlighting the statutory pay and leave they are entitled to. I would also urge employers to remind their staff of the 50 weeks of shared parental leave they could take or explore the option of compassionate leave.

But an employer’s responsibility to support their staff does not end a few weeks after a baby is born. We expect businesses to be sympathetic to parents who need extra time off for hospital appointments and this guidance sets out advice on how employers can consider extending annual leave or allowing a parent to work from home to relieve pressure.

I will be assessing how employers react to this guidance and it is my hope that this will help working families to better understand the options available to them, while also allowing employers to provide the best support possible to their staff at what can be an incredibly stressful time for families.

Margot James will be responding to questions and comments on her post later this week.

By Margot James MP

Twitter: @beisgovuk

SilverySurfer Tue 05-Sep-17 16:10:57

I thought maternity leave was available for up to a year in the UK? I'm not sure what else should be expected from employers. If you choose to have a child surely you would plan financially and otherwise in advance so I fail to see why an employer should get involved with childcare costs. Are you suggesting only parents need additional help? What about single staff who have, eg, caring responsibility for one or more aged relative? Are they not as worthy of help?

What next? They are paid for a job but don't have to work?

The bottom line is that employers have a business to run and I'm not sure how they do that when the workers are sitting at home.

gemgemmum Tue 05-Sep-17 16:30:37

Nobody plans to have a sick or premature baby!
I thought I would have a further 12 weeks to save for maternity leave but unfortunately my daughter was born at 28 weeks weighing 650g.

9 months in hospital, costs of travel and accommodation soon add up to thousands and can't be reasonably be expected can they?

On top of that the cost of the father to visit his baby for more than 2 weeks paternity leave by using unpaid leave is costly.

Have you read the article? Parents are sitting at incubators wondering if their baby will live or die not sitting at home.

EggysMom Tue 05-Sep-17 19:03:29

I'm sorry but this action is only reminding parents of what currently exists (e.g. shared leave), it is making absolutely no additional concessions by employers to parents of premature babies.

Generally before a premature child is born, the mother has already advised her employer of her proposed last day at work / start of maternity leave. Personally I would like to see the period between premature labour (& birth) and this nominated date to be provided as either extended maternity leave or as sick leave, thereby ensuring that the "50 weeks of shared parental leave" is always following the due date.

I would also like to see fathers of premature babies (more than 4 weeks early) to be given two periods of paternity leave - one fortnight when the baby is born, and another two weeks when the baby comes home. This means the father will be around to support the mother on both occasions at no hardship to the family. (Well, actually I'd like the father to be off work for the entire time baby is in NICU, but I think that's a pipe dream)

Still, anything that raises awareness of the struggles faced by parents of premature babies has to be welcomed, It's just a shame that the government have an opportunity to do more, but aren't willing.

[son born at 29wks]

Mellington Tue 05-Sep-17 20:10:06

But what about if you run your own business? You have to cope as best you can, with our first (32 weeks) my husband didn't have a single day off. No one plans to have a premature or sick baby but it really shouldn't fall to the employer to fund it.

We have no idea what will happen with our second but we've had to plan in advance to make sure we're ready what ever the eventuality. And foot our own childcare costs.

OlennasWimple Wed 06-Sep-17 01:09:45

I agree, EggysMom. It's the lack of flexibility that can cause problems, including that odd period many parents of preemies have where the baby has been born (thus triggering parental leave) but is going to be in hospital for a long time (thus it would be more helpful to be able to postpone leave until they are home)

SandSnakeOfDorne Wed 06-Sep-17 14:26:13

Oh good. The government responds to a campaign to extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies with some new guidelines and no actual change in the law. And the disingenuous claim that maternity leave is amongst the best in the world. For length, yes, but financially compared to other developed economies? Haha. This is the government doing precisely nothing.

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FlowerTink Wed 06-Sep-17 14:41:31

DH ended up having to take unpaid leave because he was only allowed two weeks paternity leave, and even then he had to return to work earlier because we needed the money... we had to go out and buy prem clothing and had more petrol costs with being back and forth to the hospital not only after dd was born but with having a prem baby there were a lot of extra hospital appointments which then turned into being readmitted as she developed an infection upon coming home. It was a very stressful and very expensive time for us all, everything adds up. We also had the unfortunate situation of ending up in a hospital in another county because nowhere in our home county had neonatal space.

AgentProvocateur Wed 06-Sep-17 22:09:56

What a load of guff. Eight paragraphs that could be summed up as "a new leaflet to tell employers what they already know about maternity rights".

Alittlepotofrosie Thu 07-Sep-17 08:42:59

I agree entirely with @EggysMom

Anyone who hasn't had a prem baby won't really understand.

BojanaMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 12-Sep-17 11:32:05

Hello all,

Thank you for your comments - here's Margot James' response.

"Thank you everyone, for all your comments.

"Legislation to protect and support working parents is already in place, but we recognise that everyone needs to fully understand exactly how that law applies. This guidance makes it clear to working parents what they are entitled to and also how employers can be flexible in supporting their staff when it comes to parental leave.

"As well as maternity and paternity leave, employees have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. Employers must consider these requests and can only refuse them if they have a legitimate reason to refuse a request.

"I understand that sometimes, fathers might want to take their paternity leave when their baby is home rather than immediately after a premature birth. Leave should be flexible to take when it works best for the family. In law, paternity leave can be taken within eight weeks of their child’s due date, or immediately after the birth, which gives parents a choice.

"I’d also like to highlight the shared parental leave and pay scheme. Introduced in 2015, all eligible parents can opt to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. This leave can be taken in separate blocks giving parents greater flexibility to decide how best to share childcare responsibilities.

"The Acas guidance is designed to help employers go beyond what is written down in law and show sensitivity in how they communicate with their staff. There are a number of free or low cost ways to support staff included in the guidance, such as establishing how working parents want to be contacted at a difficult time, and how much information they want employers to share with colleagues about their newborn.

"Working with Acas, we will monitor how effective and useful the new guidance is for parents and employers."

2014newme Tue 12-Sep-17 11:34:15

So no changes. Just a reminder of existing arrangements.
Mn can you clarify please, are there any actual changes?

SandSnakeOfDorne Tue 12-Sep-17 15:27:35

This is literally just government spin. Telling us about all the great stuff that was introduced by the previous Labour government, but not actually responding to the campaign by parents of premature babies.

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