Reed Smith has threatened to withhold pay rises and bonuses from secretaries if they take time off work because of illness.
Under the new rules, secretaries based in London who take time off due to sickness for a day or longer must now attend a formal "return to work" meeting after their third absence, they were informed in an email sent last week.
The secretaries were not told anything about the purpose of the meetings other than that their team leader and Reed Smith's Secretarial Resources Manager would be present.
If secretaries blot their copybook by having the temerity to fall ill three times, each and every subsequent occasion they take sick leave will trigger another "return to work" meeting and a notification to HR.
Ominously, "We may then look to arrange a meeting with HR to discuss how we can support any continued absences", advised the email.
The policy makes no mention of the sick leave counter being reset to zero after each year, indicating that once a secretary is tarred as weak at Reed Smith, they must quite rightly bear that mark of shame for all time, and endure meetings to discuss whether they were really ill until they leave the firm or die of it.
That policy in full.
But it was the firm's implicit threat to withhold pay rises and bonuses from secretaries who take sick leave which has most outraged the staff who contacted RollOnFriday,
"You are reminded, [sic] that absences due to sickness are taken into consideration when looking at comp/bonus during the secretarial evaluation process", stated the email. "Obviously, if you are signed off work or have a doctors [sic] certificate these are extenuating circumstances", it added.
An anonymous Reed Smith secretary said, "So pleased that Reed Smith are so concerned with our wellbeing, so much so we have the threat of no payrise or bonus if we take 3 days off".
"We do appreciate all the support and guidance when we are ill, though", they said.
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The email is curiously silent on Reed Smith's much-publicised "Wellness Works" initiative, launched in 2018 after the firm signed the American Bar Association's pledge "to address attorney mental health issues". At the time, Sandy Thomas, Reed Smith’s global managing partner, said, "This firm’s most valuable resource is its people, which makes their health and wellbeing critical to our firm, our clients and our success".
The legal profession "is inherently high pressure," recognised Thomas, "and there can be a tendency for personnel in all roles to minimize or ignore their own well-being to focus on the demands of work".
His sentiments appeared to clash with the pressure the new policy applies to secretaries to ignore or hide health concerns if they want to keep their reputation, pay and job.
Reed Smith declined to confirm whether a similarly draconian policy was being applied to lawyers, who last week were notified of big pay rises and substantial bonus deals.
A spokesperson said, “The intention of the email was to remind our secretaries of the support available to them if they are facing frequent periods of sickness. We do agree it could have been worded better and we have contacted the secretarial team to provide clarity around the issue”.
“We treat any incidences of sickness absence sensitively and our priority is always to support our people in returning to full health", said the spokesperson. "On no occasion do we disadvantage an individual who has been absent from work due to illness or injury. To the contrary, we are committed to supporting our people when they are dealing with illness and provide numerous resources to help people navigate those difficult times.”
They said the “return to work" meetings for secretaries "following frequent periods of sickness" were introduced "to ensure that they are getting the support needed to maintain a healthy working life and are aware of the policies we have in place and help available”.
The spokesperson said Wellness Works was available to all staff - who now know that its title should be taken literally.