Acas has recently issued guidance on workplace support for parents of premature or sick babies. Although something rarely spoken about, there are 95,000 premature and sick babies in the UK every year so the chances are that someone in your organisation has or could be affected by this issue.
The guidelines issued focus on employers taking a compassionate and supportive approach when dealing with parents in this position. It encourages employers to keep in touch with parents throughout, and to have discussions with them on how they would like to be contacted and whether they would like colleagues to know about what they are going through. This can be helpful for parents, as long as it is done with care; every situation will be different and every parent will want to be treated differently.
Understandably, distressed parents can easily forget their statutory rights, and the guidance suggests that employers should consider reminding parents of their rights and what leave they may be entitled to. Particularly in the case of premature babies, the mother may have forgotten (or not had the chance) to submit her form that allows her to receive statutory maternity pay. Although submitting this form may be the last thing on the parent’s mind during this time, it is very important if they find themselves without money. It can be a big support from an employer to gently remind the parent about submitting this form, or offering some kind of advance of salary, so that the parents do not have to worry about money.
The guidance also notes that the position of parents returning to work might have changed, and it encourages employers to balance the needs of the business with the pressures facing parents. This could be via extending their leave or by offering temporary or permanent flexible working.
Ultimately these guidelines confirm the importance of good communication and compassion during what is undoubtedly one of the most difficult times for parents.