Case study: globalising parental pay and leave at Ashurst


Globalising reward and employee benefit policies is a goal for many organisations; it drives efficiencies and creates standardisation across the business, not to mention providing greater oversight of different jurisdictions.

Case study: globalising parental pay and leave at Ashurst

Claire Townshend, head of HR for EMEA and US, and global head, HR operations at international law firm Ashurst, says that taking a global approach is one of their stated aims.

“We’re trying to deliver consistency across the globe,” she says. “It’s not always possible, however, and it’s not always appropriate due to local legislation – but if you can do it globally, from an HR perspective that’s what we try to do.”

Ashurst recently introduced a global parental policy to its network of offices in 16 countries across Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. The aim was to create a minimum standard across its jurisdictions.

“We’re very lucky in the UK to have long-standing maternity provision, paternity leave is standard and more recently the introduction of shared parental. And so the UK is quite sophisticated in its provisions. Australia is sophisticated as well. If you look at the Australian provision – they call it primary and secondary carer leave – again they are quite sophisticated with, for example, dual parenting,” explains Townshend.

“We have lots of legislative considerations when you look at all our other jurisdictions and what we really wanted to drive was a minimum maternity standard.”

Having looked at the maternity policies provided in other countries, it was clear there were significantly less generous provisions in place in certain jurisdictions. Townshend gives the example of Asia, where the market norm had previously dictated a lower benefit. The same is true of other jurisdictions, taking Germany as an example, where only 14 weeks’ full maternity pay is awarded (albeit there is further government funding) and no paid paternity leave. 

“What we wanted to do was have something that was a minimum standard, treat everyone the same wherever you are, bearing in mind that you might move, relocate or take on a secondment,” adds Townshend.

She explains that the organisation’s approach has had to be slightly different in the UK because the legal sector leads the market in terms of parental benefits. As such, she notes that almost all of its competitors give 26 weeks’ paid maternity, apart from one top professional services firm which offers more, and therefore this level of maternity leave needed to be to retained due to market norms.

For men, the provision has also been extended to match the UK – giving two weeks’ full pay. In some jurisdictions this has doubled the provision, while in others it has completely overhauled what was in place by introducing paid leave for the first time.

“It’s a good example of where we’re now recognising men – they have families, we want them to feel supported in that and now they have two weeks’ paid parental leave,” explains Townshend.

The next step for the global policy is to look more closely at how shared parental leave can be introduced. The firm will do this by looking at the take-up of the new parental provisions and consult on how best to introduce this.

“In the UK and Australia, there’s already this [shared leave] provision in our legislation, while in many other countries there isn’t. It’s really important to get that right, and that will take more consultation, but that’s definitely on our roadmap over the next couple of years,” adds Townshend.

Ashurst considers itself to be a progressive, inclusive firm that aims to take care of its employees. This was evident in the worldwide acceptance and leadership buy-in of the global parental pay initiative. However, there were practical challenges when implementing the policy.

“The challenge has been more HR and payroll process,” says Townshend. “For example, in some countries you get paid for a certain amount of time and then you might get further government funding. So we had to check whether we could actually pay people that extra money [to top salaries up to the full 18 weeks]. In some countries, rather than pay them every month, we’ve had to do it as a bonus because the government won’t allow it to be done as a form of salary.

“Again, there has been a lot of work in the HR function to manage around that, but it is a challenge in practicality and things can be done as long as leadership are focused on those guiding principles,” says Townshend.

In addition to harmonising their parental policy, Ashurst also took the opportunity to align the language they use to make the policy more inclusive. Rather than referring to maternity leave, this is now referred to as primary carer leave to recognise and accommodate all diversity and inclusion strands.

“The language is to take into account adoption, so we’ve brought maternity and adoption together. It also takes into account same-sex partners, surrogacy and really tries to recognise that people become parents and it’s not necessarily in a traditional way,” concludes Townshend.

By introducing global guidelines and minimum standards Ashurst has been able to overcome practical challenges by being flexible around local legislation to create a global parental policy.

See the full details of Ashurst’s global parental leave policy.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.



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