If your baby is born unwell or prematurely, and has to spend the first few weeks or months of life in neonatal care,  a recent poll has revealed there’s a 50/50 chance that your employer won’t have a policy in place to support you at what can be a very traumatic time.

This far-from-ideal situation leaves many parents of the 90,000 babies who need neonatal care in the UK each year facing a tough choice: use up their maternity or paternity leave (meant for when they’re settling their new arrival at home), take unpaid leave, or return to work while their child is poorly in hospital.

In May this year, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill received Royal Assent, so this is all set to change. 

The new legislation comes alongside a recent flurry of amends to family-friendly rights, including the ability to request flexible working from day one of employment, the extension of rights to carer’s leave, and greater protection for expectant and new parents. 

Once in force, this new legislation will allow eligible parents up to 12 weeks of paid leave – which, crucially, will not come out of their maternity or paternity leave – so that they can spend more time with their baby.

However, the new regulations that will set out exactly how this new right will work, may not be in force until sometime in 2025.  Because of this, the finer details are not entirely clear yet – but this is what we know so far.

The new law will allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of leave, in addition to their existing leave entitlements, if their baby receives neonatal care that has lasted for at least seven consecutive days and started within 28 days of birth.

This is expected to be a “day one” right, meaning an employee won’t need to have a minimum period of qualifying (employed) service before they’re entitled to it.

The right to receive neonatal pay, however, will be different. To qualify, a parent must have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks and earn more than the lower earnings limit. 

The level of pay, rules around the duration of the pay, and how much notice must be given to employers will all be set out in the regulations, when enacted. 

Until then, neonatal policy is an area for employers to consider closely. With many potential employees now expecting the organisations they work for to care about their wellbeing and have a social conscience, if you are one of the 45% of employers without a clear neonatal policy in place, it might be worth thinking about getting ahead of the new Act now.

Marks & Spencer, for example, recently announced it has introduced up to 12 weeks of paid neonatal leave with immediate effect – and has received widespread acclaim for doing so, suggesting that other employers are likely to follow suit.

It’s widely acknowledged that family-friendly policies in the workplace boost employee loyalty and retention.

So it’s perhaps worth employers asking themselves – do they want to be more proactive in this space, rather than just waiting for the law to change?

Mandy Armstrong is senior associate at Anderson Strathern