Thorntons amps up family-friendly policies

The benefits of a supported workforce will outweigh the extra costs of the policies, said Thorntons' director of people

Law firm Thorntons has introduced new family-friendly policies, including trebling paid maternity leave and upping paternity leave to 12 weeks.

New mothers can receive triple the former allowance of paid maternity leave: 26 weeks at full pay and 13 weeks at half pay. Employees who are adopting a child can receive the same benefits.

Under the new policy, co-parents receive 12 weeks of paid leave, replacing the standard approach of two weeks. Colleagues can also benefit from fully paid shared parental leave.

Read more: The problems with Shared Parental Leave

Susan Hetrick, Thorntons' director of people, told HR magazine that the move was aimed at maintaining a positive culture as the firm grows. Thorntons employs more than 580 people and partners in Scotland. The organisation has offices in Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness.

Hetrick said: “We’ve grown exponentially in the last couple of years, and we were thinking about how we can retain all these really good parts of why people have spent a long time working at Thornton's. Our average length of service, for example, is nine years.

“We looked at the parental policies we had, and said: ‘We could do a lot better.’”

Shared parental leave was introduced nine years ago. However, a government report published last year revealed that only 1% of eligible mothers and 5% of eligible fathers have taken up shared parental leave. Many parents are unable to afford it due to the statutory rates paid by most employers. 

According to Hetrick, Thorntons’ fully paid shared parental leave aims to tackle low take up rates, and deliver greater equity across parental roles. 

In addition to Thorntons' amped up policies, a new 12-week phase back option is available for anyone returning from maternity or adoption leave. The arrangements enable colleagues to work 50% of their time, over a 12-week period, while receiving a full salary.

The policies are written in a way that encourages people to maximise their use of the benefits, Hetrick said.

“We write the policy in a way that says: 'We're expecting you to take this full benefit'. So you'd have to come to us and tell us that you want to come back early, as opposed to the other way round.”

She added that the benefits of a supported workforce will outweigh the extra costs the policies will create.

“We have recognised that there will be additional costs and resources, but we believe that the benefits of people coming to work and feeling supported, particularly as a working parent, is incredibly valuable. 

“My kids are now much older, but policies like this are really important to me. I want to pass that on to the workplace.” 

Read more: Measuring up your family-friendly offering for 2024

The news follows minor changes to statutory paternity leave this month (April 2024).

Under previous legislation, employees could take paternity leave at the statutory rate of pay in a one- or two-week block during the first eight weeks after a child is born or adopted.

Now, fathers or partners can split their leave into two blocks of one week. Partners are also able to take their leave and pay at any point in the first year after their child is born or adopted, instead of only within the first eight weeks. 

Simon Kelleher, head of policy at the charity Working Families, said that the government's reforms will not address financial concerns. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “While these reforms provide greater flexibility to paternity leave, they do not address the barriers that prevent fathers and partners from taking paternity leave.  

“Paternity pay is around a third of the average weekly wage. In our own research, most fathers from lower-income households that we have spoken to told us that they had not taken as much time off as they wanted to, due to financial concerns.”