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  • Published:
    26 October
  • Area of Law:

Proposed changes around maternity leave for premature babies

Commenting on news reports about a proposed amendment to the Employment Rights Act to extend maternity leave and pay for mums who have premature babies:

Aye Limbin Glassey, employment law partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said:

“This is a sensitive issue and employers must tread carefully or risk alienating staff. When workers have children prematurely, they are under an enormous amount of strain dealing with the baby and even when their child is well enough to leave hospital care, they will have to face the stark reality that a significant chunk of their statutory leave and pay has been used up.

“This seems harsh and it is understandable that parents in this position would feel that they need more flexibility and support. However, under current laws, maternity leave and pay automatically starts the day after a premature baby is born and employers are under no obligation to extend this.

“If the amendment, which is due to be proposed in the Commons later this week, is made law, employers could be obliged to delay the start of maternity leave and pay to begin only after the period for which the premature baby is under hospital care. While this would be popular with parents, it would place considerable pressure on some employers – particularly smaller businesses that might struggle to keep jobs open for workers for a longer period of time and would undoubtedly feel the added financial strain.

 “Pending any change in the law, we recommend that employers treat the issue with sensitivity and, where possible, consider flexible working requests to allow extra time at home for parents of premature babies. While employers can decline such requests if there is a clear business reason to do so, they need to be aware that they could lose valuable members of staff. Even if requests for flexible working are declined, employers should show concern for workers through the process and be aware of how any extra pressure on their home life could impact on their performance at work.”

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Joanna Thornell, Client and Markets Director, Shakespeare Martineau