Sometimes, as company founders, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “if it ain’t completely broke, fix it later”, even when it’s something you know you should get round to. For us, one of those things was rewriting Storm & Shelter’s parental leave policy.

In the early days, when I first threw together our original maternity and paternity policies using some legal templates I found online, I didn’t give much thought to the practicalities because it just seemed so far away; something to deal with later. I had “more important” things to deal with, like whether we were going to allow pets in the office. I just accepted the default governmental allowance, and that was that.

Seeing as no one on the team was planning on having children (yet, as far as I knew), updating the family leave policies was sitting at the bottom of my to-do list and at the back of my mind. Then, one day, Eryn, our animator, marched into my office and said “I think we can do better with our family leave policies” and walked me through where we were falling short. I completely agreed and promised I’d get to work on educating myself and drafting a new policy. There’s a reason that “be more Eryn” is a bit of a mantra at S&S…

Looking back, I feel quite foolish to have blindly accepted what I now consider to be the total absurdity of only offering male parents two weeks off to look after their newborn child…

Let’s face it. The current governmental allowance for parental leave simply isn’t fair. It treats all different types of parents differently, and (to save a full-on rant) it could do with an update. We think that parents of all genders should be encouraged to take equal responsibility for their child—and be fully supported by their employers to do so.

But just because it wasn’t mandated, it didn’t mean we couldn’t do better. 

So that’s what we did.

What have we changed?

In a nutshell, we took all our previous separate policies (maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption) and merged them under one new genderless “parental policy”.

Why? Simple. Every parent is a parent, so they should be treated equally.

What does that actually look like?

1. Leave

All children should be entitled to spend an equal amount of time with their parent(s) or guardian(s), so our new Parental Leave policy grants all team members the same 52 weeks leave regardless of gender, relationship status or your particular journey into parenthood.

What that means is:

  • whether you’re a single or multi-parent household…
  • whether you’re he/she/they/xe…
  • whether you’re a new parent through birth/adoption…
  • whether you adopted a newborn/child/teen…

…you get the same allowance.

2. Pay

Government-mandated pay during maternity leave allows for:

  • 6 weeks of 90% of your usual pay; then
  • dropping to “statutory pay” (the lower of £151.97 per week or 90% of your usual pay) for the next 33 weeks; then
  • 13 weeks unpaid.

As a small business, it’s genuinely difficult for us to offer generous parental pay above and beyond the statutory minimum (especially after extending the policy to apply to all parents), but we knew we needed to start somewhere. Whilst we can’t yet afford amazing benefits (like Aviva, who offer 6 months of full pay 😍), it’s what we aspire to as soon as it’s feasible.

For now, anyone becoming a parent at Storm & Shelter is offered 8 weeks of full pay before dropping to statutory, and we’re committing to regularly reviewing and improving this as we grow the company.

A breakdown of how parental pay works at S&S across the 52-week allowance.

3. Bereavement

We‘ve also taken the time to consider what happens in cases of pregnancy loss.

Not formally recognising the need to grieve the loss of a pregnancy is damaging, and despite the life-changing nature of losing a baby, many people sadly feel it’s something they have to hide. Of course, a loss can remain private for a whole host of reasons, but for some, concerns over how they will be perceived at work can take over. We want to avoid reinforcing the taboo of pregnancy loss at all costs.

Under existing UK employment law, businesses are only obligated to offer statutory leave to employees who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks. We know that the potential grief and trauma of such a sad event is going to be felt by both parents, so for loss after 24 weeks, we offer the full parental leave and pay entitlement to any parent, whether they were carrying the child or not.

We don’t think this goes far enough, as the loss of a child at any stage in pregnancy is one of the most heart-breaking things any family can experience. We’ve adapted our compassionate leave policy for parents so that they can come to terms with any loss. Anyone who is affected by baby loss at any point before 24 weeks of pregnancy—whether that’s through miscarriage, termination, loss via surrogacy, or an adoption falling through—will be offered two weeks of compassionate leave at full pay.

We’ve also recently signed up to Spill, which gives all of our employees free access to therapy and mental health resources, and anyone affected by baby loss will be encouraged to take a course of six counselling sessions.

We’d like to thank Sharon Flaherty at BrandContent for sharing her experience and founding the #PregnancyLossPledge, which motivated us to consider how we could better support our employees. As she rightly says, the government may not recognise baby loss before 24 weeks, but we can.

Putting it into practice

Nothing in this new policy should be groundbreaking, but compared to the UK Government’s statutory allowances, it sure seems that way to a lot of people right now. For us, it’s an integral part of being a supportive, fair and modern employer, and we’ll continue evolving this policy as Storm & Shelter grows to ensure we’re getting it right and supporting our staff as best we can.

Now, she’ll be mad at me for saying this, but a week or two before I managed to publish our new policy internally, Eryn let us know that she’ll officially be Storm & Shelter’s first mum! We truly couldn’t be happier for her (despite her clear manipulation for personal gain). I hope that the new policy she helped shape will have a genuine, positive effect on her experience as a new parent, as well as all the S&S parents to come.

And for those still wondering: yes, we allow pets at the office 🐶

About the author

As Managing Director of Storm & Shelter, Gruff has the ultimate responsibility for the company’s performance, overseeing the Production Director and Creative Director to ensure continuous development of company processes and policies, gearing the company towards growth and profitability. Sounds a bit grown up, doesn’t it?

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Gruff Vaughan