Companies in the UAE are increasingly reconsidering the needs of young parents and evolving their policies accordingly. From offering month-long paternity leave to granting days off for IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatments and stillbirths, firms are going the extra mile for employee well-being and to 'simply do the right thing'.

For James Michael Lafferty, CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding, many of these policies are close to his heart. “When my wife had a miscarriage, we were traumatised. Last year, our company introduced a leave for those who had suffered a miscarriage or a stillborn.

"In my email, I wrote that I was introducing a policy I hoped no one would have to take. Most companies, treat miscarriages as nothing and expect their employees to come in to work the next day. If they want to mourn the loss of a baby, they need to take their vacation days to do so. I think that is unfair," he added.

One or two employees have utilised the leave since the policy was introduced. In addition, the company also has four months of paid maternity leave and one day of menstruation leave per month, as well as for those who need it for IVF treatment. This is in addition to the annual vacation offered to employees.

“These policies cost money, and there is no way of proving that they pay out,” said James. “Calculating a payoff would take years of studies. However, I do believe that it is the right thing to do. If we take care of our people, the business will take care of itself. I am lucky to have a very forward-thinking board of directors who also believe in this ideology.”

Extended parental leave

Earlier this month, the Chalhoub group increased their paternity leave to 30 calendar days for team members with at least one year of service. “We wanted to ensure that fathers across our organisation have ample opportunity to be present with their newborns and provide the necessary support to their families during this significant period in their lives,” said Wassim Eid, President of People & Culture at the group.

The policy applies to all fathers across the organisation and can be taken within the first six months after a child's birth, either all in one period or spread out over the first six months of the child’s life.

In addition to the updated paternity leave policy, Chalhoub Group also provides designated parking spaces for expecting mothers and 90 days of fully paid maternity and nursing rooms for new mothers.

VFS Global is another company that began offering extended parental leave to its employees in the GCC earlier this year. The organisation is offering four months of maternity starting 2024 – compared to three months earlier and eight weeks of paternity leave.

Time to recover, bond

“Giving new mothers that extra time to spend with their newborns, and make a full emotional and physical recovery, means they resume work with renewed passion and dedication,” said Kathryn Martin, Regional HR Head, Middle East & North Africa, VFS Global. “The initiative has been greeted with enthusiasm from our employees, and we will ensure that any absences are covered with additional help.”

However, these policies come with its own set of challenges. For the Galadari group, which has businesses in over eight industries ranging from heavy equipment to media in ten countries, designing a policy that fits everyone is a daunting task.

“We have over 1,000 unique job profiles in the company,” said Dominic Keogh-Peters, Group Chief Human Resources Officer at Galadari. “Some are client-facing jobs and require employees to be physically present at their job locations. So it requires a lot of effort to design one policy that can be catered to everyone in the company.”

The company provides three months of maternity leave after one year of employment. Once they rejoin the company, female employees who have the option of availing remote work can do so for 28 calendar days, which can be taken consecutively or intermittently anytime within six months of rejoining. If the job profile does not allow for remote work, female employees need to work only half their daily working hours for the first 24 working days from the day they resume work.

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