New act for parents of children needing neonatal care – what employers need to know.
New parents will have a right to additional, dedicated time to spend with their baby while they’re receiving specialist medical care.
Introduced as a Private Members Bill by Stuart C McDonald MP, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 will introduce two new statutory rights—neonatal care leave and neonatal care pay. The rights proposed by the Scottish National Party member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, were afforded a boost last summer when the government decided to back it as opposed to pursing a broader legislative proposition of its own. It’d been the government’s aim to include a similar proposal amongst several other family friendly measures in 2019 within the now defunct Employment Bill.
Speaking of the Act, Mr McDonald said, ‘No parent should have to choose between being with their premature or sick baby in neonatal care and having to return to work to earn a living; or enjoying the full benefits of parental leave and going back to work.’
How much are we talking?
1.Neonatal Care Leave
The right to neonatal care leave will be a ‘day one right’ – akin to maternity leave – and eligible employees will be entitled to up to 12 weeks’ off. To be taken in a continuous block of one or more weeks, eligible employees will be permitted to take neonatal care leave after any applicable period of maternity/paternity. During neonatal care leave, it’s expected to be the case that eligible employee will: retain the benefit of their terms and conditions of employment (excluding remuneration) which would have applied but for the absence, and remain bound by any obligations arising from the same; retain the right to return to a job of a prescribed kind; and enjoy the same protection as that afforded to parents exercising other family friendly entitlements (i.e. not to be subject to a detriment or discrimination arising from them taking, or seeking to take, neonatal care leave). The notice requirements are also yet to be determined.
2. Neonatal Care Pay
Like other forms of statutory family related payments, eligible employees will need 26 weeks’ continuous employment ending the week immediately before the one in which the neonatal care starts. They’ll also need to have received normal weekly earnings for a period of 8 weeks ending that week, and which are not less than the lower earnings limit in force (i.e. £123 from 6 April 2023, unchanged from previous threshold of £123 from 6 April 2022).
The rights stated will be available to parents of babies (or those with responsibility and/or a relationship with the baby) admitted into hospital up to the age of 28 days, and who have a continuous stay in hospital of 7 full days or more. ‘Neonatal Care’ is considered to mean medical or palliative care starting before the end of 28 days beginning the day after the date of the child’s birth. Secondary legislation is needed here, but it’s expected that such criteria will mirror the conditions in place for other family friendly entitlements.
Secondary legislation will provide much needed detail in areas such as eligibility criteria, notice requirements etc. The government expects to implement the act within 18-months of royal assent. Speaking of the ‘huge milestone’, Caroline Lee-Davey (CEO of Bliss – the charity in support of parents of babies born premature or sick) said, ‘thousands of parents every year have no choice but to return to work while their baby is in hospital or spend months of their maternity leave next to an incubator’. For now, employers should continue to be reasonable when employees have a new-born in specialist neonatal care. However, once secondary legislation is passed, employers will rapidly need to revisit employee handbooks and consider additional training for managers in dealing with neonatal care leave and pay.