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Freshfields introduces paid leave for pregnancy loss

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has introduced a paid leave policy for UK staff and their partners who have been affected by pregnancy loss.

Staff at the law firm who experience a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks will be entitled to up to two weeks’ paid leave under the new policy, according to a spokesperson.

Effective immediately, the policy also covers staff who are the mother’s partner, or staff who have a surrogate mother. Pregnancy loss under the policy includes miscarriages and abortions. 

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“The policy applies regardless of length of service and recognises that pregnancy loss is not isolated to women or heterosexual couples,” the spokesperson said.

Freshfields’ new policy, which was announced internally on 11 October, makes it one of the first major City firms to introduce a dedicated pregnancy loss scheme.

In April, Channel 4 launched what it described as the world’s first dedicated pregnancy loss policy for employees.

Digital bank Monzo announced in May that it was introducing paid leave of up to 10 days following the loss of a pregnancy, which it said made it the first UK bank to introduce a policy for additional leave around pregnancy loss.

Businesses only have to allow parents to use maternity or paternity leave if they lose their baby after 24 weeks under UK employment law. 

There are calls for the UK to introduce legislation that would allow women and their partners the right to paid leave if a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks; SNP MP Angela Crawley introduced a private members bill to parliament in June, due to be heard in December, which would allow women and their partners three days’ paid leave. 

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Under Freshfields’ policy, if staff choose not to take their leave entitlement they can make use of flexible working arrangements which include more breaks, reviewing and reprioritising of workload, and reduced working hours, the firm said.

Female Freshfields’ employees who experience pregnancy loss after 24 weeks or a stillbirth will be eligible for maternity leave and maternity pay, the spokesperson said.

The firm said all employees are entitled to four weeks’ enhanced bereavement leave if their child dies, “including in circumstances where a pregnancy loss after 24 weeks, stillbirth or neonatal loss has occurred”.

Employees are also entitled to paid time off to attend or accompany their partner to appointments relating to pregnancy loss under the scheme.

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Freshfields worked on the new policy with Sands, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity, which is the firm’s London charity of the year

Claire Wills, Freshfields’ London managing partner, said: “We hope that these measures can go some way in helping to ease the distress which many face under such heartbreaking circumstances, and provide support to our people when they need it most.”

Freshfields joins a select group of legal sector peers to have formalised their rules around issues like miscarriage and abortion.

Law firm Howard Kennedy announced on 12 October that it was introducing a new policy allowing those affected by pregnancy loss up to 10 days of paid leave. The firm said it would also offer paid time off for employees who are receiving, or recovering from, fertility treatment.

In June, Clifford Chance and US law firm Cooley extended health insurance benefits to staff in the UK to cover fertility treatments for the first time.

Cooley is offering reimbursement of up to £45,000 for fertility treatments, while Clifford Chance’s insurance covers fertility treatments and investigations up to £15,000.

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Separately, Freshfields has recently overhauled its parental leave policy, with the changes coming into force in April.

The firm has renamed paternity leave, which it now calls new parent leave. The changed terminology aims to reflect modern families, and accommodate “all diversity and inclusion strands”, the spokesperson said. The leave available has been increased from two weeks to 12 weeks.

The firm has also reduced the qualifying period for maternity, adoption/surrogacy, and shared parental leave from 18 months to 26 weeks.

It has also removed the option to receive a proportion of its enhanced maternity pay as a lump sum for those returning to work from leave between 26 and 39 weeks, to remove the financial incentive to not use the full entitlement.  

The firm has also removed any clawback if an individual does not return after leave.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email James Booth

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