Full pay will be extended for mothers of babies born before 37 weeks by the number of days the child is born before its due date. For partners full pay will be extended by up to two weeks, the organisation confirmed.
The BBC’s existing extenuating leave policy of up to 10 days can be used to recognise those who might need extra support. But this change to the parental leave policy means the broadcaster will now provide support between the baby’s premature arrival and the original due date, and will protect the full length of the parent’s maternity or paternity leave.
The move follows the mayor of London announcing plans at the end of last year to introduce premature and neonatal leave at City Hall. Last March Waltham Forest Council became the first UK local authority, it believed, to introduce extended leave for parents of premature babies.
The BBC said that it recognises returning to work can be a difficult time for parents of premature babies, with potentially ongoing medical appointments required for the infant. It has said it will also offer further support when required in terms of either additional leave or informal flexible working arrangements.
Valerie Hughes D’Aeth, BBC chief HR officer, told HR magazine that the change came from staff feedback. “We consulted with staff last year on a range of subjects to get their thoughts on what else we can do to make the BBC a great place to work, and through that were made aware of the challenges that parents of premature babies can face – such as needing time off for ongoing medical appointments,” she said.
“The changes to our parental leave policy mean that the full length of maternity or paternity leave is protected, parents receive extra financial support at a difficult time, and time is allowed for the baby to reach the developmental milestones ready for childcare. It also ensures consistency across the support given once the parent returns to work.”
Sarah-Jane Butler, founder and CEO of Parental Choice, welcomed the BBC's move and encouraged other employers to take similar action.
“In my experience HR teams need to consider the needs of their working parents and crucially the impact being a parent can have on an employee at work. Instead of seeing the provision of support as a 'nice to have' they should instead be viewing it as a fundamental need, just as health insurance and pensions are," she told HR magazine.
"That the BBC is recognising the needs of its working parents with premature babies is a great step to be highly commended, but parents of children of all ages need support. Needs change but they are no less demanding.”
Butler gave a number of recommendations for how employers can better support working parents.
"This support can take the form of helping source high-quality, dependable, long-term childcare; allowing flexible working to fit childcare rather than vice versa; creating wellness programmes aimed at educating working parents and recognising their lives outside of the workplace; creating buddy systems for returning parents so they aren’t 'in at the deep end'; and staggering working hours for returning parents over a period of weeks or when there are crucial stress points – starting school for example," she said.
"My key advice is that businesses need to recognise that their employee has been through a life-changing experience when becoming a parent, and even though their priorities will have changed they are still amazingly valuable assets, who are loyal and hard-working and should be recognised and invested in no matter what stage of parenthood they are at.”
The BBC's policy change will commence on 1 April 2019.