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As workforce gets younger, Khaitan takes first steps to ‘working from home’, intros semi-flexible hours, parenthood, crunch-time benefits

A young Khaitan lawyer, perhaps, working from home
A young Khaitan lawyer, perhaps, working from home

Khaitan & Co has set out a number of progressive human resources (HR) policies to facilitate flexible working, including some additional maternity (and paternity) benefits and compensatory time-off when workloads get extreme or interfere with pre-arranged holidays.

Some of the changes aim to make Khaitan a more attractive employer to an increasingly young work-force, while maternity benefits hope to eventually also increase the number of Khaitan’s female partners, who currently make up around 13% of the total partnership.

Khaitan HR director Amar Sinhji, who had joined from the Tata Group in 2015, explained that the idea with the new policies was to ensure they were not just best amongst domestic law firms, but also compared favourably to corporates and other professional services firms, where a lot of talent comes from nowadays.

“It’s a part of a larger plan. A huge chunk of our workforce is now young people - our average age is now 31, 32 [years old],” he said, noting that this was just the start of a number of new policies being rolled out in the coming months, including rolling a new HR online management system by early 2019, re-looking at overall billable hours, and revamping its appraisal system.

“We felt that we need to change with the times - not that our policies were bad, but we really want to ensure that we are ahead of the curve.”

Working from home

Amongst its new initiatives, the firm was “taking a small step towards the ‘work-from-home’ concept”, it said in its internal announcement, although in practice its aim was to reduce time wasted travelling to far-away meetings and to attend to personal matters at home.

It allows all members who’ve been with the firm for at least three years, to take advantage of “agile working”, which means that they can work from home for up to 12 days per year (as long as they work from home for no more than two consecutive days, and clock at least eight-and-a-half hours of work).

This practically works out to one day of working from home per month and while it will not be super useful for parents wishing to spend more time at home every week, it’s certainly a start (and it also compares favourably to international law firms: Shearman & Sterling is one of the firms with one of the more permissive home-working policies since 2016, allowing two days of working from home per month).

The primary idea behind it, explained Sinhji, was to allow people who may have a client meeting in a far-away part of town not to waste time to travel back to the office but could spend the rest of that day to work from home, and to deal with any issues that come up at home.

Dashing perhaps some young lawyers’ hopes, it therefore also can’t be used to remotely work a Friday for a long weekend in Goa, say: “outstation travel” is banned for agile working, according to the policy and lawyers need to be available for physical meetings and calls.

The technology back-end to allow working seamlessly from home was already pretty much in place, according to Sinhji: it was possible to log time sheets on an app, documents were already sitting in the cloud and “different platforms are coming live slowly”.

Flexi-ish time

What may be more useful day-to-day for those wanting to spend more time with family (or sleeping in, or to avoid rush-hour traffic), is the “flexitime” policy, which was announced at the same time.

Flexitime, after prior approval from HR and team leaders, allows Khaitan lawyers to come in as late as 11am, provided they log at least 9 hours into their timesheets that day (billable or otherwise, including lunch).

Alternatively, Khaitan staff could come in at 8am and leave by 5pm, for instance. Secretarial and other non-fee-earning staff can also take advantage of this, providing they ensure that “other team members are available” in normal office timings.

Of course, many Mumbai firms (most notably AZB & Partners, perhaps) already start quite late compared to Bangalore or Delhi, but leaving at 5pm can still be tough in a culture where jackets on office-chairs can often be seen to equate to hard work.

The policy also sets out normal working hours as 930am to 630pm, with 30 minutes allotted for lunch, with obligatory core hours between 11am and 5pm.

A lawyer has to register for flexitime for a minimum of five days, and is subject to “black-out periods” that can be imposed by departments in times of high demand.

Crunch leave, ruined holiday comp

Some of the other policy changes, relating to paid vacations, were announced with a raft of other “forward thinking clauses” to have “class leading people policies”, explained Khaitan HR head Amar Sinhji.

The changes were “aimed towards creating a more accommodating work environment”, according to the internal announcement, and also include:

  • Reinstatement of an equivalent days of holiday leave, when someone has taken planned leave but has worked for more than 7 hours that day.
  • Paid “recuperation leave” for members to get up to a two-day break after a period of “intense work on a continuous basis” - Sinhji explained that this was a discretionary award for “prolonged period of work on a continuous and rigorous basis”.

Recuperation leave would have to be signed off by partners or team leaders (“acting judiciously”, according to the policy) and can’t be awarded more than three times per year.

Khaitan lawyers have been getting 30 days of paid vacation per year, which remains unchanged.

Parenthood and marriage

Also spelled out in Khaitan’s new policies are several maternity, paternity and related benefits, on top of the 182 days of maternity leave:

  • after maternity leave, optional “reduced working hours for three months” for mothers of only six hours per day,
  • paternity leave of 14 days, and
  • marriage leave of 5 days.

Sinhji said that around 33% of lawyers at the firm were currently women, and the new policy would be an “advantage”. “Our policies are much more attractive for ladies to build a career here.”

He said that this would also hopefully have a positive effect on the current approximately 13% female to male partners percentage.

Sabbaticals possible after 5 years

Finally, the firm has also formalised “sabbatical leave” of three months, available to members who have completed five years at the firm.

Sinhji said: “With these and a few more changes in the pipeline, we will have world class people policies, practices and processes in place.”

The new policies will take effect from 1 November.

Photo by Shane Adams.

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