Maternity policies blaze a trail for HR in Ireland

Businesses like Vodafone and Rent the Runway are writing a much-needed new chapter for HR policy.

This week Vodafone revealed new fertility and pregnancy policies that include extended leave for those dealing with fertility treatment and pregnancy loss as well as their partners.

Vodafone also revealed changes to its maternity leave policy, offering the same maternity leave for surrogacy.

“Our approach encompasses both the highs and lows, ensuring we are there for our employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss, surrogacy as well as maternity and parental leave”

The new policy includes extended paid leave of ten days for those impacted by pregnancy loss (when this occurs prior to 24 weeks, after this full maternity leave applies), inclusive of whether the loss occurs to them, their partner or their baby’s surrogate mother. Vodafone recognises that each case may require different support depending on the situation, and additional leave will be offered, alongside hybrid and flexible working.

Fertility treatment and surrogacy

In relation to fertility treatment, Vodafone Ireland is offering ten paid working days leave per annum for those directly undergoing fertility treatment and two days paid leave for partners of those having treatment. Additional flexibility regarding leave will also be offered depending on the situation, as well as hybrid and flexible working, allowing employees time to attend appointments as needed.

Vodafone said that surrogacy can be often overlooked in maternity leave policies and Vodafone Ireland will mirror the full 26 weeks paid maternity leave for the surrogacy intending parent (primary caregiver). In addition, Vodafone Ireland will provide preparation leave of ten paid working days leave for prospective parents to attend preparation classes and/or meetings with further flexibility available dependent on the situation.

Vodafone Ireland continues to offer 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave to all non-birthing parents whose baby is born, adopted, or born through surrogacy (non-primary carer) and a six-month ramp on period where an employee works 80% of the working week but receives full pay.

“We know the road to parenthood may not be easy and so we have developed these additional policies for our employees here in Ireland,” said Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland.

“Our approach encompasses both the highs and lows, ensuring we are there for our employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss, surrogacy as well as maternity and parental leave. Inclusion for all is a key pillar of our purpose and by creating these enhanced policies, we hope to build a culture of openness and break down the stigma associated with fertility treatment and pregnancy loss.”

Ciara Merrigan, Co-Founder, Irish Families Through Surrogacy shared the following feedback when reviewing Vodafone’s surrogacy leave policy: “At a time when there is no specific legislation for surrogacy in Ireland, and the emotional journey which commissioning parents go through, Vodafone Ireland is taking a leadership role in offering a market leading surrogacy leave policy for its employees. Their policy provides the required flexibility during the surrogacy journey and recognises the need for adequate time off to bond with and care for their child once in their care.”

Gender-neutral family leave

Auburn haired woman in black and pink dress.

Dorothy Creaven, Rent the Runway

“We are proud to support all families by giving every parent the opportunity to have quality time with their children”

The moves by Vodafone come months just after Galway-based fashion circular economy player Rent the Runway announced that all employees based in Ireland are offered 20 weeks of fully paid leave as part of its gender-neutral family leave policy designed to support families.

Any employee that becomes a birth parent, adopts a child, becomes a parent through surrogacy or whose partner is a birth parent after working at Rent the Runway for at least one year, will be eligible to take up to 20 weeks paid family leave commencing in the first year of the child’s birth.

This policy goes above and beyond the current statutory leave policy in Ireland, which allows for 26 weeks maternity leave paid through social welfare at a rate of €245 taxed and two weeks paid paternity leave to parents of a child under one, or during the first year of adoption.

The 20 weeks Family Leave being pioneered by Rent the Runway in Ireland is based on one year’s tenure. This is scaled proportionally based on tenure with the company: six weeks leave based on under six months employment; 13 weeks leave based on six-to-12 months employment; and 20 weeks leave based on 12+ months employment.

Rent the Runway vice-president and managing director for Ireland Dorothy Creaven said that the policy adopted by Rent the Runway fosters equality among all parents and recognises the importance of allowing them to equally contribute to the early stages of their child’s life.

“Rent the Runway strives to recognise and support the many facets and phases of employees’ lives and foster a culture that allows them to thrive both personally and professionally,” said Creaven.

“We are proud to support all families by giving every parent the opportunity to have quality time with their children.

“Our Family Leave policy further underlines Rent the Runway’s strong commitment to parental equality and will make a significant difference to Rent the Runway employees in Ireland, where traditional companies usually distinguish family leave based on maternity or paternity status.”

The ground-breaking new policies by both Vodafone and Rent the Runway should serve as a clarion call for employers across Ireland to review their existing policies to support families.

On one hand they may be seen as bold moves in the context of the ongoing war for talent, full employment and the so-called Great Resignation.

But in reality, the new policies are of their time and are a humane and principled step towards supporting growing families, helping parents to achieve work-life balance, and protecting an organisation’s most valuable asset: its people.

Main image at top: Vodafone Ireland employee Clodagh O’Hagan and her son Frank O’Hagan (1) with Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland (centre) at the announcement of new fertility and pregnancy policies introduced by the business. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.