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Published: 20 Jun 2019

Waltham Forest Council – Winner 2019, Best Innovation

3 Key Points 

  • Extended fully-paid maternity and paternity leave offered to employees with a baby born prematurely. 
  • The policy covers the time a baby spends in hospital from birth until the original due date. 
  • At least four members of staff have benefited so far. 

 “Within the neonatal unit you hear lots of stories from people who couldn’t spend enough time with their babies. The scheme has made a huge difference to me. It’s great to know when your employer is backing you and your finances are stable. It takes away so much stress and worry. 

Rochelle Francis, Waltham Forest Council employee who had triplets who were three months premature. 


Extended maternity and paternity leave with full pay is offered to employees who have a baby born prematurely for the time the baby is in hospital up to the original due date.  

Waltham Forest Council became the first organisation in the UK to introduce extended fully-paid leave for parents of babies born prematurely last year. 

The new policy was inspired by a campaign by premature baby charity, The Smallest Things, which highlighted around one in eight babies are born prematurely – before 37 weeks.  

Statutory maternity and parental leave begins the day a baby is born, meaning that parents of premature babies can use up vital leave before their baby even leaves hospital. 

The new extended leave can help alleviate practical and financial worries at time of uncertainty and emotional stress. 

Any employee with a baby born before 37 weeks’ gestation is entitled to the extra paid leave, which covers the time a baby spends in hospital from birth until the original due date. 

Since January 2018, at least four employees have benefitted from the policy, each claiming between one and 14 weeks’ leave and pay. 

Every member of staff who reports a pregnancy receives a letter explaining the additional leave and support. Information is also embedded within more general campaigns and communications about wellbeing and work life balance to ensure employees know it is available, should they need it. 

Other organisations have followed suit including Sony Music, the London Boroughs of Croydon, Sutton and Southwark, South Yorkshire Police and Medway NHS Foundation Trust. 

The overwhelming positive response to the council’s new policy prompted it to review other wellbeing and work life balance support options including its carers policy, enhancing leave for employees who foster or volunteer, and increasing the number of weeks at full pay for parental leave.