Parents of premature babies could be entitled to one week of paid leave for every week their baby is in hospital.
Outgoing prime minister Theresa May has launched a wide-ranging consultation into parental leave, saying it is “not fair and not right” that some parents have to return to work before their newborn even leaves hospital.
Rights for parents
May said she wants to provide greater support for parents dealing with “the unimaginable stress” of having a baby in neonatal care.
Currently, the two-week statutory parental leave period means many fathers must return to work while a premature baby is still in hospital.
A survey by neonatal charity Bliss found that 36% of fathers and partners ended up taking sick leave while their baby was in neonatal care.
The consultation will also look at how improvements to parental leave can “better reflect our modern society” and promote better gender equality at work and home.
The UK is below the OECD average in terms of length of paternity leave offered, though highest on length of maternity leave.
The consultation will look into whether companies should be required to publish their parental leave and pay policies, and whether they offer flexible working. It will also consider whether to require employers to advertise jobs as flexible from the outset.
May said: “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.
“That’s not fair and it’s not right. So we’re also proposing a new neonatal leave and pay entitlement to make this time a bit easier for parents whose babies need to spend a prolonged period in neonatal care.”
She added that “too often, it is still mothers, not fathers, who shoulder the burden of childcare”.
Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, said that shared parental leave forms “a key part of the government’s equalities agenda”.
“It allows men to spend more time with their child, helping them to develop that paternal bond, and provides women with vital support at home during such an important time in their child’s life.
“This announcement is another step in the right direction, towards giving parents even more choice about how they manage work and parenting responsibilities. Fathers should not have to rely on annual and unpaid leave if they want to be involved in the first months of their child’s life.”
Earlier this year, the TUC called for shared parental leave to be overhauled amid reports that only 1% of those eligible for the right took it up in 2018.
Last September, the government passed a new piece of legislation that entitles parents to up to two weeks of paid leave if a child dies. This will come into force in 2020.