In conversation with: Richard Morris’ drive to update our Family Leave Policy
In conversation with Unite Students’ Head of Operations (Financial Planning & Analysis), Richard Morris.
Richard, who has worked for the company for more than seven years, spoke to us about our updated Family Leave Policy, which includes up to four weeks statutory paid leave for parents whose newborn(s) are in neonatal care.
This is ahead of the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill – providing additional paid leave to parents whose babies require neonatal care after birth – that is expected to become law later this year.
Richard is part of Unite Students’ employee forum Culture Matters, which drove the changes. Here, he also discusses his own family experiences, leading him to pursue improvements to our policy.
The new policy includes updates to birthing parents, non-birthing parents, shared parental leave, adoption and surrogacy. This includes provision for those using IVF to start a family.
Q: Richard, could you tell us about the updates to our Family Leave Policy and how you were part of this change?
A: I’m a representative of Unite Students’ employee forum Culture Matters, which has driven changes to our family leave policy including flexible start dates for parents of premature babies or those hospitalised from birth.
The company is offering up to four weeks’ paid leave for parents whose newborn(s) are in neonatal care for more than seven days – increasing proportionately to the amount of time the baby is in hospital – on top of their Company Family Leave. This enhancement means that parents don’t have to return to the workplace when their child is in hospital, or miss out on leave when their child goes home.
Unite Students has also increased its company pay for non-birthing parents from two to four weeks, meaning if a baby is hospitalised from birth, a non-birthing parent could be entitled to up to eight weeks’ leave.
Other changes include offering three days of paid leave per cycle for employees undergoing IVF treatment; and entitlement for primary parents, through adoption and surrogacy, matching the leave and pay for birthing parents.
These are important updates to benefit colleagues and their families and I am delighted that the company has taken the decision to do what’s right and support hardworking employees and their home life as best we can – this is something I was strongly committed to seeing.
Q: How will these changes affect you and your family personally?
My wife Beth and I sadly suffered two pregnancy losses. We suffered a miscarriage before the birth of our, now, four-year-old son. Our son was one day away from being born prematurely and was at first allowed to go home, but was then rushed back to hospital.
My two-week paternity leave came to an end just four days after he left hospital, so I had to go back to the office. A major reason for getting behind these changes was so that others in my situation get more time at home, to feel like a parent in those first moments, when their little one leaves hospital – and to have the support they need.
Our second pregnancy loss was in 2020 before the birth of our daughter, now two. While I’ve had very supportive managers, who I could talk to, my wife and I want to do whatever we can to support parents in a similar boat, so that extra time off and the required financial support is given, instead of something that needs a conversation first. For me, this was pushing for change through Culture Matters.
Q: How did your role within Culture Matters help with these updates?
Culture Matters is an integral part of employees voicing what they think is right, for both colleagues and the company. We raised that if your baby is hospitalised from birth, you could be unable to spend time with them when they are discharged because your entitlement to leave might have ended – we are delighted families will benefit from these updates.
Through Unite Students’ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging and Wellbeing Steering Group and Culture Matters’ proposals, the change we wanted is now happening. There are great opportunities at Unite Students and it’s fantastic that initiatives like changing family leave policy are actioned – I knew there was a lot of company support but my wife and I thought there could be more for parents who are in and out of hospital with their baby and the business really listened to that.
Updating our family leave policy is a great example of Unite Students actively doing something to create change and other families connected to the business will benefit as a result.
Q: You’ve worked at Unite Students for more than seven years, what will these family leave policy updates mean for employees?
I know the sick and premature baby charity, Bliss, has been in touch with the business and said it is absolutely delighted that we’re introducing neonatal leave and pay ahead of this becoming a statutory requirement. It said it knew what a difference it made for both parents to have this much-needed time to be by their baby’s side in hospital. Also, without the worry of rushing back to work, parents were able to be involved in delivering hands-on care, which was vital to their baby having the best possible outcomes.
Beth and I wholeheartedly agree with that and just want colleagues to know that if you need someone to talk to about this, I’m here as are others in the business. It’s incredible how many people have been affected – and sad that many people don’t know this or about the high levels of family support out there. But that can change, and our updated Family Leave Policy is a huge step forward.
Download the new Family Leave Policy, here.