Current news and my recent posts show that the landscape of maternity and paternity leave and pay rules seems to be changing. It seems that employers are trying to become more flexible with their approach to the rules and how they apply them, trying to develop their own policies that extend the statutory protections already afforded.
For most women, their pregnancy will take place with no difficulties and maternity leave can begin 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth or will automatically begin (as per the law) on the day after the birth if the baby is born early. Whenever it begins, maternity leave allows a woman to have up to 52 weeks of leave.
However, the current legislation does not take into account those whose babies are born prematurely, when leave will begin the day after the baby is born early. This means that weeks or even months of a new parent's time can be spent in and out of hospital, scuppering the chance of spending a normal amount of time with the baby before having to return to work. Parents therefore will be forced back to work before they are ready to do so. The current rules do not take into account the additional financial and emotional support that is required during this unexpected time.
However, it does seem that employers are becoming mindful of the implications of premature births on employees. Since 1 April, the BBC have made changes to their current leave and pay schemes, so that parents with premature babies will be afforded extra consideration. The BBC decided that for any baby that is born before 37 weeks, full pay will be extended for mothers by the number of days the baby is born before the due date. Partners will also be afforded an additional two weeks of full pay. In my opinion this is a fantastic way of ensuring that parents experiencing a difficult and emotional time are fully supported.
Noticeably, in New Zealand the extension of maternity leave for mothers with premature babies is already taking place, but hopefully the fact that MP's are currently campaigning for change, will hopefully have enough of an impact to get the legislation changed.
More than 105,000 people have signed a petition urging the Government to extend maternity leave for mothers who have premature babies. Catriona Ogilvy launched the petition after both her sons were born prematurely. Her first son Samuel came 10 weeks early in 2011 and spent two months in neonatal intensive care. She told Sky News: "I was terrified of touching him, you were terrified that you might knock his breathing tube, that you might disconnect his wires.