For the Record: Parental Leave Assistance Program

Law Society extends Parental Leave Assistance Program, for the record - November 22, 2012

There has been much discussion recently about the Law Society’s Parental Leave Assistance Program (PLAP). To help dispel any confusion and clarify the path forward chosen by Convocation, the Law Society provides the following overview and history of the program.

Going Forward
On November 22, 2012, Convocation approved an extension of the Parental Leave Assistance Program (PLAP) and the adoption of a means test by which an eligible applicant must have a net annual practice income of less than $50,000.

The new means test will be effective as of January 1, 2014 — subject to any tax implications determined by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). In the meantime, the program, as currently structured, continues to be offered.

During the extension, the Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee will continue to explore options to meet the objectives of the PLAP in keeping women in practice by reducing the financial hardship faced by lawyers in sole and small firms during parental leaves.

History
The PLAP is one of the nine recommendations of the Retention of Women in Private Practice Working Group.

Approved by Convocation in 2008 as a three-year pilot project, PLAP is designed to enable more lawyers to stay in practice following the birth or adoption of a child. The PLAP helps reduce financial hardships by providing benefits to lawyers in sole practice, or in firms of five lawyers or fewer, who don’t have access to other maternity/parental/adoption financial benefits under public or private plans.

The plan provides a fixed sum of $3,000 per month for three months (maximum $9,000 per leave, per family), to help defray the costs of maintaining a practice during a leave.

By helping sole and small firm lawyers maintain the viability of their firms during parental leaves, the plan is also aimed at helping to alleviate the shortage of legal services in some regions of the province. The plan was also designed to encourage practitioners to join small firms or to set up sole practices where they might otherwise be discouraged from doing so because of the financial implications of taking parental leaves.

Following a ruling from the CRA, the PLAP became effective March 12, 2009, at a time when there were no other public parental benefits available for sole or small firm lawyers.

Federal Program Introduced
In January 2010, the federal Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits program was amended to provide self-employed individuals benefits including maternity, parental, adoption, sickness and compassionate care benefits. Previously, these benefits were only available to wage earners and salaried workers. EI Special Benefits became payable on January 1, 2011.

Although the amount of EI Special Benefits for maternity or parental leaves per week is lower than PLAP benefits, the length of eligibility is longer and provides greater overall benefits. However, self-employed individuals need to opt into the plan and pay premiums for at least one year before they can claim benefits.

Following the introduction of the federal program enhancements, the Law Society looked at the longer term impact of the new program and determined that PLAP could co-exist with the EI Special Benefits plan.

In October 2011, Convocation approved an extension of the PLAP until December 31, 2012 to allow a full assessment of the PLAP to consider whether it should be maintained in light of the availability of the EI Special Benefits program.

Convocation also decided it would provide one year’s notice to the profession if it decided to cancel the PLAP, because of the one-year opt-in period for EI Special Benefits.

Full Assessment
The Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee looked at statistical information about PLAP recipients, reviewed findings of interviews with PLAP recipients and looked at various alternative models and related costs.

The committee decided that the best model would be one that adopts an eligibility means test of a net annual practice income of less than $50,000. Such a model would continue to meet the objectives of the PLAP.

Information about the PLAP is available here. For general inquiries about the program, contact the Law Society’s Resource Centre at 416-947-3315 or 1-800-668-7380, ext. 3315 or send an email to plap@lsuc.on.ca.

Additional Programs
In addition to the PLAP, the Law Society also continues to support women in private practice through other innovative retention programs, such as the newly introduced Career Coaching Program. Other resources include the Justicia Project, Women’s Online Resource Centre and the Contract Lawyers’ Registry.