Thursday, August 19, 2010

 

Maternity Leave Lessons from Small Business

While large law firms have generally become more progressive with their policies for maternity leaves, adoption leaves, and paternity leaves, many small firms are just beginning to tackle these issues. We often hear from lawyers at small firms that they were the first in their firms to take maternity leave. A recent New York Times article (“Taking a Positive Approach to an Employee’s Maternity Leave”) highlights best practices for small business maternity leaves. This article provides a good reference for small firms to help smooth the transition into and out of maternity and other extended leaves. Highlights include:

1. Communicate openly: Make sure that your employees understand that there are many life events that take people out of the office for extended periods of time. It’s best to plan for them.
2. Involve your employee: Ask the employee with the upcoming leave to prepare a transition memo to help with re-assigning work. Also plan for how to handle the transition back to work—this is even more important.
3. Consider flexible schedules: If your firm is unable to offer paid leave, offer flexibility as an attractive alternative. Many large law firms are now offering “on-ramping” programs, which allow for reduced hours for a certain period of time upon returning from leave. This could be a nice addition for the small firm as well.
4. Don’t fret too much about inconsistency: Because everyone knows each other in a small firm, more room typically exists for giving people what they need, without getting overly focused on consistency. The key is to be sensitive enough to people’s on-going needs—whatever the reason—that everyone feels that they could get flexibility or leave when they really need it. Of course, you need to keep employment laws in mind.

Both new mothers and new fathers want to take leave. Others need to take leave due to illness and family care responsibilities. Small firms will need to put flexible, transparent policies into place to remain competitive in today’s evolving workplace.

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