NeoNatal Care Leave and Pay To Be Introduced For Parents of Premature or Sick Babies
The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill received Royal Assent on 24 May 2023 becoming the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023. The Neonatal Care legislation enables parents to take up to 12 weeks’ paid leave to enable them to spend more time with their baby if it is receiving neonatal care in a hospital or other agreed care setting due to being born early or being sick within the first four weeks of their life.
Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the bill it received Royal Assent on 24 May 2023. The bill is now an Act of Parliament (law).
Currently, parents of a baby requiring neonatal care must use existing statutory leave entitlements to allow them to take time off work while their baby remains in hospital. For mothers, this means using up some of their 52-week maternity leave entitlement, which is triggered on the day of the birth. For fathers, this would usually mean using up their two-week paternity leave entitlement, perhaps in combination with other leave rights such as unpaid parental leave, unpaid emergency dependant leave or annual leave. In some cases, the mother may exchange up to 50 weeks of her maternity leave for shared parental leave to share with the father. Doing this would enable the father to take a longer period of time off work, but would, in turn, reduce the amount of time off work that the mother is able to take.
Eligibility To NeoNatal Care Leave and Pay
The right will apply to employees with parental responsibility or have another personal relationship with a child who is receiving, or has received, neonatal care.
The child must have been receiving neonatal care continuously without interruption for a period of at least seven days, starting with the day after the day on which care starts.
“Neonatal care” means care:
- Of a medical or palliative kind, and
- That starts before the end of a period of 28 days beginning with the day after the date of the child’s birth.
The Right To Time Off and Pay
This entitlement is in addition to other leave entitlements, such as maternity and paternity leave.
Leave is a day one right for parents of a baby who needs to spend at least one week in neonatal care.
Employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service and whose weekly earnings are at or above the lower earnings limit (currently £123 per week) will also be entitled to statutory neonatal pay during this period of leave at the current statutory rate. Payment will be equal to the statutory rate of pay for family-related leave.
Leave must be taken before the end of the 68th week after the date of the child’s birth.
Employees who take a period of neonatal leave will be protected by:
- a right to benefit from the existing terms and conditions of employment that would have applied but for the leave (apart from terms and conditions about remuneration);
- a right to return to work to a job of a kind to be prescribed by the regulations; and
- protection from detriment or dismissal as a result of having taken or sought to take neonatal leave.
How NeoNatal Care Leave Can Be Taken
It is understood that the proposal is for the leave to be taken either whilst the child is receiving neonatal care or within a specified period thereafter; to avoid impacting on other leave entitlements such as maternity leave. This benefit enhances existing leave entitlements.
Each parent can take up to 12 weeks’ leave.
A week is any period of seven days, meaning leave can start on any day of the week.
NeoNatal Care Pay
Statutory neonatal care pay is likely to mirror other family friendly pay: 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings, or the Lower Rate of SMP which is £156.66 for the 2022-23 tax year), whichever is lesser.
How To Prepare
It will be important to check other related family rights policies to see whether any changes (for example provisions relating to returning to work after maternity or paternity leave) are needed.
Questions to consider:
- Will you enhance statutory neonatal pay, offering full pay instead.
- If the regulations provide that leave may only be taken continuously, will you take a more flexible approach and allow the employee to take it discontinuously (e.g. a day or week at a time)?
- Will you relax any notice and evidence requirements provided for in the regulations? If so, what would be the minimum notice required? What form must it take (e.g. would verbal notice be sufficient)?
Multiple statutory instruments will be required to bring the new legislation into place, meaning delivery will be in ‘due course’.
The finer detail will address:
- the precise meaning of “neonatal care”;
- how much leave an employee may take (this will be set at between one and 12 weeks);
- the period within which the leave may be taken (this will be at least 68 weeks from the child’s birth);
- how leave may be taken (e.g. continuously or discontinuously);
- the rate and duration of statutory neonatal pay;
- the amount and form of notice to be given to the employer;
- the evidence of entitlement to be given to the employer;
- what records the employer will need to keep; and
- what will happen is special cases (e.g. where the parent has more than one child receiving neonatal care, or a child receives neonatal care on two or more separate occasions).
Employee Handbook Compliance Package