News release from 04/09/2019

Council staff with premature or unwell babies entitled to more paid leave

All South Cambridgeshire District Council employees – men and women – will now be entitled to additional paid leave after the birth of a child who requires an extended stay in hospital.

A new maternity, premature birth and neo-natal leave policy was agreed by Cabinet today (Wednesday 4 September), meaning that mothers with premature or unwell babies will not have to cut short the time they had planned to spend at home with their babies, before deciding whether to return to work.

The policy will grant mothers employed by the Council, whose babies are born unwell or before 37 weeks, 100% of their salary either until the baby is released from hospital or until 28 days after their expected due date, without affecting their normal maternity leave or pay entitlement.

Partners employed by the Council will also be entitled to take the same amount of time off at full pay, meaning difficult decisions can be avoided about whether to take paternity leave while their child is in hospital or when the child is able to go home for the first time.

Premature babies tend to develop in line with their original due date (their ‘corrected age’) rather than their arrival date. Parents beginning maternity leave early, on the date their baby is born prematurely, traditionally return to work before their child has reached the ‘corrected age’ of one and achieved the developmental milestones associated with one year olds. This can make the decision to return to work at the end of maternity leave more difficult for mothers of premature babies, who may feel their child is not yet ready for childcare.

The Smallest Things charity, which campaigns to extend maternity leave and pay for parents of premature babies, launched its Employer with Heart campaign in February 2018. With the introduction of this new policy, South Cambridgeshire District Council will achieve the Employer of Heart status.

Cllr Bridget Smith (pictured below), Council Leader, said: “With approximately one in every 13 babies in the UK born either unwell or prematurely, parents are often forced into extra worry by thinking about practical matters such as agreeing time off with employers and balancing household budgets.

Cllr Bridget Smith

 

“Partners face difficult decisions about when to use their statutory leave, and families face unanticipated costs of around £2,000 for things like travelling to hospital, parking, eating on the go and additional clothing, nappies or car seats suitable for tiny babies, at a time when the family is inevitably already facing a drop in income from any planned parental leave.

“I am incredibly proud of this policy, especially because it goes above and beyond the expectations set out by the Smallest Things charity to offer partners a minimum of two weeks’ compassionate leave. We are offering full pay for partners too, for the duration of a baby’s stay in hospital, ensuring both parents are able to spend precious time together supporting their family.”

The recommendation to consider arrangements for employees around premature birth and neo-natal leave resulted from a Motion put forward to Council by Cllr Heather Williams (pictured below), local member for The Mordens ward, in November 2018. Cllr Williams said: “Becoming a parent is a life changing event – for many a time of great joy and excitement, however for parents like myself who have premature babies it can be a time of fear, anxiety, and helplessness. While pregnant you prepare for bringing your baby home, but nothing can prepare you for the day you come home without your baby, having never held them.

Cllr Heather Williams

 

“When the time does come to bring your bundle of joy home, you share the excitement and elation that other parents feel – but life is still not quite the same. The extra support a NICU/SCBU baby requires does not end when they leave hospital. They are more prone to infection and some babies require specialist care at home, so it is crucial that parents have enough leave not only to bond with their babies, but to provide this additional medical care too.

“All of this is on top of additional financial pressures and difficult decisions about when partners should return to work, which is why it is so important for mothers like me to speak out, and for employers like the Council to support employees. It is the policy that we hope is never needed, but it will give some certainty at a time when there is very little. Progress is only made when parents like me speak out, and others listen, so I thank all councillors and officers who have supported this motion and brought it to reality.”

The additional pay would be paid from the beginning of the leave and would not be required to be repaid under any circumstances. The new policy also outlines the ways the Council will support mums and dads returning to work after what can be a traumatic experience in neonatal intensive care. With the number of Council employees having a baby born prematurely or unwell expected to be fewer than one per year, the cost to the Council, including the additional pay for parents and recruiting cover staff, is not expected to exceed £15,000.