WHAT IS NEONATAL CARE LEAVE?
The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 gives employees a new right to time off work when a baby they have responsibility for is in hospital receiving neonatal care.
This new type of leave will be in addition to the current family friendly rights such as maternity leave and paternity leave.
It will only apply in the specific circumstance when the child requires neonatal care.
DO you NEED TO DO ANYTHING NOW?
No. Although the Act is now in force, the Government must create Regulations before the new right can be brought in and these have not yet been made. The Act itself does not give detail about how neonatal care leave will work in practice; it is the Regulations that will do this. However, we are able to build a picture of how it might work from previous Government documents.
The Government has stated that it expects neonatal care leave to be available to eligible employees from October 2024.
WHAT IS NEONATAL CARE?
For the purposes of neonatal care leave, neonatal care is care of a medical or palliative kind which starts within 28 days of the child’s birth. The child must be in neonatal care without interruption for a period of at least seven days, beginning with the day after the day on which the care starts.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO TAKE NEONATAL CARE LEAVE?
Employees who have parental or other responsibility for a child who is receiving, or who has received, neonatal care may take neonatal care leave.
Regulations will specify who exactly may take neonatal care leave though it may include the following:
a) the mother of the baby
b) the father of the baby
c) the mother’s spouse, civil partner, or a partner who will be living with the mother and baby that is in neonatal care in an enduring family relationship
d) the intended parents in surrogacy arrangement
e) the intended parents in cases of adoption
Neonatal care leave will be available from day one of employment provided the other eligibility requirements are met. However, there is a service requirement in respect of the pay element which is explained later.
The child must begin receiving neonatal care within 28 days of its birth and the care must be for at least 7 days. This means that the parents of a child who is admitted for neonatal care at, for example, 35 days old, will not qualify for neonatal care leave.
HOW MUCH LEAVE CAN THE EMPLOYEE TAKE?
An eligible employee is entitled to at least a week’s leave.
Regulations will specify the total length of leave permitted but it is expected that this will be capped at 12 weeks. The amount of leave to be taken will match the number of weeks that the child receives neonatal care.
For example, if the child receives neonatal care for three weeks, the employee will get three weeks of neonatal care leave. If the child receives neonatal care for 15 weeks, the total neonatal care leave will be 12 weeks due to the effect of the cap.
It is anticipated that the leave will need to be taken in a continuous block rather than in single days.
WHEN CAN THE LEAVE BE TAKEN?
The leave must be taken within 68 weeks of the date of the child’s birth.
HOW DOES NEONATAL CARE LEAVE INTERACT WITH OTHER FAMILY LEAVE?
Once an employee is on maternity leave, they would not be able to end it to go on to neonatal care leave and then back on to maternity leave when the baby is out of hospital.
In practice therefore, the neonatal care leave will be taken at the end of the maternity leave period (or paternity leave period, if the employee qualifies) even though this may mean that the time when the leave is taken is not actually when the child will be receiving the neonatal care.
Even if an employee does not qualify for another type of family leave, for example, paternity leave, they would still be entitled to neonatal care leave if they satisfy the eligibility criteria.
WHAT NOTICE DOES THE EMPLOYEE NEED TO GIVE?
The Government’s intention is to create a two-tiered approach for notice requirements:
• where the child’s admission to neonatal care is sudden and unexpected, the employee is to provide informal notice to take the leave at short notice.
• where the neonatal care leave is to start when the child has not recently been admitted into neonatal care - see above on interaction with maternity leave - then a longer notice period of at least a week would be given.
However, Regulations will set out the detail.
WHAT PAY WILL THE EMPLOYEE RECEIVE?
The level of pay has not been confirmed, however, it is expected that this will be the same rate per week as other family leave, like maternity leave.