Ashurst unveils 'landmark' 26-week parental leave policy

Package of measures will be applied globally 'irrespective of gender identity' and includes pregnancy loss provisions
Photograph of Ashurst managing partner Paul Jenkins outside the firm's offices

Paul Jenkins

Ashurst has introduced a ‘landmark’ global parental leave policy designed to offer support to working parents, regardless of gender identity. 

Under the new policy, lawyers and staff will be allowed 26 weeks of fully paid leave, irrespective of gender identity. Legal staff will also have a three month reduction in ‘chargeable’ hours targets when they return to work. 

The policy also includes pregnancy loss provisions which cover two weeks of paid leave for anyone who suffers a pregnancy loss whether it happens directly to them, their partner, or their surrogate mother, plus an additional five days for related appointments. Those who experience pregnancy loss after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy will have access to the full 26 weeks of paid leave entitlements. 

In addition, the firm said it will be removing gendered language so there is no distinction between primary and secondary parents or maternity and paternity. Finally, the policy encompasses surrogacy, foster and kinship care. 

Andrea Bell, chief people officer at Ashurst, said: "Our global parental leave principles recognise the diversity of family life and establish consistent, market-leading support across all of our global offices. This represents a significant enhancement to our existing policies and reflects how we want to ensure that our people get the right level of support.”

Paul Jenkins, Ashurst’s global managing partner, added: "As a global law firm we want to ensure that all our people have access to a globally consistent standard of support. Introducing this progressive new package of measures for our working parents is a key step in that."

The removal of gendered language and the policy’s viability regardless of gender seek to address the issue of unequal distribution of paid leave for men and non-traditional families.

In May, a survey conducted by legal search firm Major Lindsey & Africa in the US found that only 23% of large firms offer 14 to 20 weeks of paid paternity leave, compared with 43% that offer the same amount of time for maternity leave. 

The issue of parental leave policies in the US took centre stage in 2019 when two married former Jones Day associates brought a sex discrimination and unlawful dismissal claim against Jones Day that remains ongoing in which they alleged the firm's family leave policy violated civil rights law because it offered paid disability leave for birth mothers, but not fathers.

Ashurst’s pregnancy loss leave, meanwhile, is particularly unusual, as a limited number of firms currently offer any such provisions under their parental leave policies. In June, Kingsley Napley said it became the first UK firm to offer paid leave for staff who have been affected by pregnancy loss, following in the footsteps of other businesses including Channel 4 and online banking company Monzo.

Linda Woolley, the firm’s managing partner, said at the time: “The Covid pandemic has been a powerful reminder that we bring our whole selves to work and that we all have personal life challenges to deal with sometimes which can affect our work.”

Nick Robbins, the founder of London-based international recruiters Nicholas Scott, said: "For a firm to recognise not only its relationship with its staff but with its staff’s relationships at home is important. These policies aren’t that common, especially on the paternity side. There’s been a huge push on mental wellness over the last year-and-a-half, so the policy’s provisions also tie into that."

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