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Herbert Smith Freehills will become one of the first law firms in Australia to pay superannuation on unpaid leave when significant changes to its Australian parental leave offering come into effect on 1 May 2022.

The firm has announced that it will extend its paid parental leave offering from 18 weeks to 26 weeks and pay superannuation on both paid and unpaid parental leave up to 52 weeks.

The firm has also reduced the eligibility criteria for paid parental leave from 12 months of continuous service to 6 months, ensuring that more of its people can benefit from these changes. Anyone who suffers a pregnancy loss after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy will also be eligible for 26 weeks of paid parental leave.

Herbert Smith Freehills has also introduced additional paid leave for people and their partners undergoing fertility treatment or surrogacy.

The firm’s updated policy has a transitional provision such that it applies for all babies born since 1 January 2022. The firm continues to have no distinction between primary and secondary carers meaning the parental leave policy is available to all eligible parents.

Discussing the changes, which are part of the firm’s new ‘Life@HSF’ benefits program, Executive Partner, Australia, Andrew Pike said: “We are committed to investing in our people and supporting them through their most important career and life milestones. These changes will empower our people to excel, while balancing their vital roles outside the firm.

“We believe that paying superannuation on the unpaid portion of parental leave is an important step to address the significant gender pay gap that exists in Australia today.”

Recognising that everyone has a different journey to parenthood and different needs in regards to parental leave, the firm has also announced a number of ways in which it will support people during parental leave and importantly, upon their return.

This includes a personalised return plan that supports returning parents in managing work, career progression and family commitments. Plans will be tailored to suit individual requirements but could include a change in type of work, overall workload and flexibility in when, how and where work is done. For lawyers, their plan might also include a reduction in the expected number of chargeable hours.

Herbert Smith Freehills’ Global Director of Culture and Inclusion, Danielle Kelly said: “We want our people to feel supported, valued and confident that their career will continue to progress at the firm when they become parents.

“Returning from parental leave looks different for everyone and we are committed to making it an experience that is positive for our people’s careers and family lives, as well as their teams. We will work with our people returning from parental leave to agree a personalised path that suits their needs and ensures that they have a positive transition back to work.”