Thousands of parents could get paid time off work to care for premature or sick babies – on top of maternity leave

PARENTS of premature or sick babies could get extra paid leave from work under new rules proposed by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May.

The government wants to introduce a new "Neonatal Leave and Pay" entitlement for parents whose kids need to spend a prolonged period in hospital following birth.

In the UK, an estimated 100,000 babies are admitted to neonatal care every year following their birth.

But at the moment, if a baby is sick or premature, parents have no rights to additional maternity or paternity leave.

This means that the time spent in the hospital can swallow up a significant chunk of the time off, especially for men who only get two weeks of statutory paternity leave and pay.

It often means fathers and partners are forced to either return to work or ask for annual leave, unpaid leave or dependent's leave.

What is shared parental leave?

HERE'S what you need to know about shared paternal leave.

  • Mums and dads can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after they have a baby.
  • The time off can be taken in three separate blocks or parents can share the time to have six months off together.
  • Parents can share statutory shared paternal pay which is £140.98 per week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
  • To qualify, you or your partner must be eligible for maternity pay and leave and be continuously employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your baby's due date.
  • You must give your employer at least eight weeks' written notice of your leave dates.
  • For more information visit

Not only can this be expensive – if leave is not paid – it can also mean that fathers are robbed of the chance to spend time with their newborn at home.

Mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, but only 39 of these are paid.

If they are only entitled to statutory maternity pay – they get 90 per cent of their earnings for the first six weeks.

For the next 33 weeks they whichever is lower of £148.68 a week or 90 per cent of their weekly earnings.

If mothers do not qualify for statutory maternity pay, they can apply for maternity allowance.

They get £148.68 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks

Fathers get whichever is lower of £148.68 a week or 90 per cent of their weekly earnings for two weeks.

Of course, many employers offer better benefits for mothers and some offer improved benefits for fathers too.

Parents can split maternity leave and pay under "shared parental leave" rules, meaning that the father or partner can spend more time at home. See the box above for more information.

How will the new system work?

Under the new system, parents would receive one week of neonatal leave and pay for every week their baby is in hospital – on top of their existing maternity and paternity leave and pay.

Anyone who qualifies for the pay will get 146.68 a week or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings if that's lower.

The leave would be available to all mothers, fathers and partners and it would be added onto the end of the existing maternity or paternity leave and pay period.

Number 10 says tacking it onto existing arrangements will enable employers to plan contingencies for staff absences more effectively.

It says it will be easier for parents to understand and for employers to administer, especially as it is often not clear how long a baby might need to be in hospital for.

The government is also consulting on how long neonatal leave should be and whether it should be capped.

No decisions have been taken at this stage but the government is suggesting that it should be capped in order to balance the needs of parents with the needs of their employers and co-workers.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We want to look at further specific support for parents who are already dealing with the unimaginable stress of their babies needing special neonatal care.

"Parents have more than enough on their plates without worrying about their parental leave running out and having to return to work before their precious newborn comes home."

The consultation also looks at paternity leave more generally, and whether statutory paternity leave for fathers and same sex partners should be changed.

It is also asking for suggestions on ways in which the shared parental leave policy introduced in 2015 could be improved.

Finally, it is consulting on whether employers should publish their leave and pay and flexible working policies and whether there should be a requirement for employers to consider advertising jobs as flexible.

For more information, see our guide to what is maternity pay in the UK, how much leave are you entitled to and what is the law on returning to work?

Three in 10 self-employed mums may be missing out on maternity pay worth more than £5,660.

While thousands of new parents are missing out on chance to share paternity leave.

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