The maternity leave policies at law firms vary. At the very least, law firms must provide unpaid leave that complies with the Family Medical Leave Act. However, many firms provide maternity leave benefits that go beyond what is legally required.
The terms of maternity leave policies differ based on factors such as the amount of leave allowed, eligibility conditions for taking leave, paid versus unpaid leave, the availability of paternal leave and whether other benefits like vacation time, sick time or short-term disability run concurrently with maternity leave.
Below are two examples of policies.
Example Policy #1
Maternity Leave Policy
Eligibility: The firm provides a paid maternity leave benefit to qualifying full time employees. To be eligible, an employee must meet the minimum eligibility requirements for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”); namely, the employee must have been employed with the firm for at least one year and worked at least 1250 hours with the firm over the previous 12 months. Employees may be asked to provide appropriate verification and documentation in connection with any application for benefits under this maternity leave policy
Amount of Leave: An employee who is eligible for leave under the maternity leave policy may take up to 12 weeks of paid leave during which the employee will receive 100% salary continuation. The leave taken pursuant to this policy will be designated as FMLA leave if the employee is eligible for FMLA leave such that the employee’s maternity leave and FMLA leave will run concurrently.
Benefits During Leave: For the duration of the leave, coverage under the firm’s health, life and disability insurance plans will be maintained at the same level and under the same conditions as if the employee had continued to work. The employee must pay the usual employee share of the premium through payroll deduction. If the payment is more than 30 days late, the employee’s healthcare coverage may be dropped for the duration of the leave.
Procedure for Requesting Leave: In the event you require a leave under this policy, contact Human Resources as soon as possible for additional details and to provide any required information.
Example Policy #2
Maternity Leave Policy
The firm has implemented this leave policy to enable lawyers of the firm who are new parents to spend time with their newborn or newly adopted children. This policy is adopted as an affirmation of the firm’s commitment to support its lawyers both in their decisions to become parents and in their work as lawyers.
A. Eligibility. Any lawyer in good standing who gives birth or adopts a child is eligible for the benefits under this leave policy. Leave under this policy may only be taken during the first 12 months following the birth or adoption.
B. Paid Leave. All eligible lawyers under this policy are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. Paid maternity leave will be paid at 100 percent of the lawyer’s regular salary.
C. Unpaid Leave. If a lawyer wishes to extend leave past the period allowed under the paid leave provision of the policy, an additional period of unpaid leave may be applied for of up to 12 weeks.
D. Medical Documentation. An eligible lawyer will be required to furnish appropriate medical documentation for the birth of a child. If the eligible employee is eligible for Family Medical Leave Act leave, the medical certification requirements will govern. The medical documentation will be completed and signed by the individual’s health care provider.
E. Adoption Documentation. An eligible employee will be required to furnish appropriate adoption documentation, such as a letter from an adoption agency, or from the attorney in cases of private adoptions.
F. Transitional Provisions.
1. Case-load Advisor: It is the joint responsibility of the leave-taking lawyer and the firm to ensure that: (1) the leave has the least possible impact on the productivity of the lawyer and the firm; and (2) the service to the clients is maintained. To assist in achieving this goal, the firm shall designate a partner of the firm to: (1) assist the leave-taking lawyer in transferring work; (2) to ensure that the lawyer’s work is appropriately distributed; (3) to handle any difficulties concerning the distribution of the leave-taking lawyer’s work arising during the leave period; and (4) to assist the leave-taking lawyer in acquiring work assignments and re-transfer of files upon the return the work. The case-load advisor will be the liaison for any emergency contact with the leave taking lawyer required during the leave and will keep the leave memorandum containing the list and whereabouts of all of the leaving-taking lawyer’s files.
2.Leave memorandum: One month prior to the leave, the leave-taking lawyer will develop a leave memorandum directed to his or her case-load advisor and to the appropriate individuals in the firm, identifying each file in his or her case load and the designated lawyers who will be handling these matters during the individual’s leave period. No later than two weeks prior to the expected date of departure, the lawyer will have completed the memo and met with each person taking over any file to review that file.
3.Notice of Return to Work: The leave-taking lawyer must give the firm written notice of the day he or she intends to return to work at least four weeks before the end of the leave-taking lawyers specified leave or four weeks before the end of the entitled leave, whichever is earlier.
4.Meeting after Leave: Upon return to work after leave, the case-load advisor, the leave-taking lawyer and the lawyer with temporary charge over any of the leave-taking lawyer’s files will meet to decide which files are most appropriately transferred back to the returning lawyer at what point in time.