Policy piece

29th March 2017 • Emma Cooper

The Government is committing to drawing up new guidance to support working mothers of premature babies.

The Government is committing to drawing up new guidance to support working mothers of premature babies. The guidance will ensure employers know how best to support working mothers who give birth to premature babies and will cover everything from requests for flexible working to additional time off.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will work with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), and invite the views of premature baby charities to develop guidelines for employers on how to support their staff.

While the Government expects employers to be compassionate and flexible during this difficult time, the guidance will make it easier for both working parents and employers to access advice.

The guidance will include information on how employers can offer flexible working arrangements following a premature birth and how to handle requests for additional time off. ACAS will publish the guidance on its website shortly.

Business Minister Margot James said, ‘While most employers treat their staff with compassion, it’s incredibly important that they know how best to support their staff at what can be a very difficult time for working parents.

‘New and expectant mothers must feel confident of their rights in the workplace and this new guidance will go some way to offering those reassurances.’

The Government will keep the impact of these measures under review but does not rule out legislating in the future.

Response to the pledge from Bliss baby charity

Caroline Lee-Davey, CEO of Bliss, said, ‘At Bliss we have previously championed the need for developing employer guidelines around handling requests for leave and flexibility from parents of premature and sick babies, specifically as part of wider measures that also guarantee support is available to those parents at what can often be an incredibly difficult time.

‘While we welcome the Government’s recognition that mums of babies born premature ‘deserve respect and support from everyone’, we still believe that it is only through legislation these guarantees could be offered. In the meantime, we are keen to work with the Government on developing these new guidelines for employers, and will continue to campaign for changes to maternity leave legislation that better supports parents of premature and sick babies.’

Welcoming the announcement, Founder and Chair of The Smallest Things, Catriona Ogilvy said;

‘This is wonderful news, and recognises the overwhelming support The Smallest Things campaign has received. This Mother’s Day weekend 7,000 mothers will have visited their baby in neonatal care, uncertain for the future. This guidance and recognition from the Government as part their ‘Mothers Day Pledge’ of what is a highly stressful and difficult time, will offer hope and reassurance to thousands of families beginning their journey through neonatal care each year.

‘The impact on families of a baby being born prematurely lasts for many, many years and The Smallest Things will keep on working to support and raise awareness of these needs.’

Current parental leave

The UK’s maternity system is one of the most generous in the world. Eligible mothers can take up to 52 weeks of leave and up to 39 weeks of pay.

In 2014, the Government extended the right to ask for flexible working to all employees in work for more than 26 weeks. Previously only parents and carers had a right to request flexible working.

Around 20 million people are now eligible to apply for flexible working, with an estimated 60,000 people a year already taking advantage of new working arrangements. Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting any request.

Shared Parental Leave was introduced to give working families more flexibility to share childcare responsibilities.

Related articles:

Having a premature baby – what’s it really like?