Planning for a baby can be full of exciting and daunting emotions all bundled into one journey.
But, key advice to any future or current expectant parent is to seek information well ahead of time.
As you can probably imagine, when you've just welcomed a new baby into your family, it can be terribly hard to transition back into work straight away. Besides, you want to spend some quality time with your little human.
In Australia, more parents are spending longer at home with their newborn, and about 2 in 5 women go back to work when the baby is 7 months or older.
However, sometimes it's not financially viable for some people to take the entirety of parental leave. And that's okay.
But it's still important to know the ins and outs of what exactly you are entitled to as an employee. It will give you not only peace of mind, but you'll be able to devise a plan on how you will take advantage of this opportunity; while still leaving you financially stable and supported.
What am I entitled to?
When it comes to maternity leave, Australia offers a number of entitlements (paid and unpaid) that you may not be aware of, and could be eligible for — and these may also apply to your partner.
Unpaid Parental Leave
Parental leave allows employees (full-time, part-time or casual) to take time away from work when:
- You've given birth
- Have a spouse or de factor partner that has just given birth
- You've adopted a child under 16 years of age
If you fit the above scenario criteria, you are entitled to 12 months of unpaid parental leave and can request an additional 12 months of leave by chatting with your employer.
The only catch is that you need to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months. If you're casual or part-time, you just need to have worked for 12 months on a regular or systematic basis.
And, if you do request the additional 12 months, your employer may refuse this on reasonable business grounds, which needs to be stated in writing.
These entitlements apply both to you as the mother and your partner.
Government-Funded Parental Leave
The Australian Government has recently updated its paid parental leave entitlements. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, as of 1 July 2023, partnered couples can claim parental leave pay between them for up to 20 weeks. Parents who are single at the time of their claim can access the full 20 weeks.
The former Dad and Partner Pay entitlement has been removed and the additional 2 weeks’ pay has been combined with the existing entitlement to 18 weeks of Parental Leave Pay.
These changes affect employees whose baby is born or placed in their care on or after 1 July 2023.
Other changes include:
- Allowing partnered employees to claim a maximum of 20 weeks’ pay between them, with each partner taking at least 2 weeks (except in some circumstances).
- Introducing a $350,000 family income limit (indexed annually from 1 July 2024) for claiming paid parental leave pay.
- Expanding the eligibility rules for fathers or partners to claim paid parental leave pay.
- Making the whole payment flexible so that eligible employees can claim it in multiple blocks until the child turns 2.
- Removing the requirement to return to work to be eligible for the entitlement.
Employer-Funded Parental Leave
More Aussie employers (currently 50%) are starting to fund their employee's Parental Leave.
They've finally caught onto the fact that paid parental leave is a pretty attractive component of a modern workplace.
It's a great way for companies to attract better talent, encourage diversity and improve the work-life balance of their employees.
The great thing about this is that you can be paid for both your employers' paid parental leave and the Australian Government's Paid Parental Leave Scheme.
However, the amount of time that is offered varies from employer to employer.
- Based on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the average length of paid primary carer’s leave offered by employers was 10.3 weeks in 2018.
- And around 40% of companies offer secondary carers leave, providing an average of 1.6 weeks paid leave.
Also, the amount paid varies from employer to employer.
- It will depend on your arrangements with them, but it cannot be less than what the Government is providing. So either the national minimum wage or more.
- The majority of employers will offer your full pay rate in addition to the Government’s Scheme (if you’re eligible), while other employers will offer a top-up on the Government’s Scheme to your full pay rate.
Applying for parental leave
Once you've figured out where you stand in terms of the entitlements offered, you need to give your employer a certain amount of written notice and evidence if they request it.
How much notice do I need to give my employer?
Under the Fair Work Act, you've got to give your employer 10 weeks' notice before starting your leave. Ideally, this should be in writing and say how much leave you intend to take (and when you intend to take it).
Then, 4 weeks prior to your planned parental leave date you should confirm your intended leave dates with your employer in writing.
How far in advance can I take leave before the expected birth or adoption?
Your leave can start up to 6 weeks before the expected date of your child's birth. If you want earlier, you can chat with your employer and come to an agreement.
What if I want to work right up until the birth?
You might need a medical certificate that states you are fit to work if you want to work through part of the last 6 weeks of pregnancy.
I've changed my mind and want to extend my leave — is that okay?
Absolutely. But you will need to give around 4 weeks of notice before your expected return date that you originally agreed on.
Your rights while you’re pregnant
You’re entitled to a bunch of extra rights if you happen to be carrying another human life.
If you experience pregnancy-related illness (morning sickness, anyone?) you are able to take sick leave (instead of dipping into your annual leave).
Special maternity leave
Also, note that special maternity leave won’t reduce the amount of unpaid parental leave that an employee can take. Take your time.
Regardless of whether or not you’re entitled to maternity leave, all pregnant women are entitled to move to a safe job if it isn’t safe for them to do their usual job because of their pregnancy.
If you move to a safe job, you are still entitled to the same pay rate, hours, or work and other entitlements you get in your usual job. Nothing should change in that regard.
No Safe Job Leave
If you're not able to find a suitable safe job in your workplace, you're entitled to paid No Safe Job Leave. Which means you are paid at the base rate of pay for ordinary hours of work for a full-time or part-time employee.
If you are a casual employee, it will be paid at the base rate of pay (not including casual loading) for the average number of hours you would usually work.
Your rights during your leave
Here are a few extra entitlements to be aware of when you're off work caring for your newborn child or newly adopted child.
Kept in the loop
While you're taking parental leave, you're allowed to work up to 10 days without ending the parental leave period or formally returning to work if you are taking unpaid parental leave.
The 10 days doesn't need to be consecutive either, and can be spaced out according to what you and your employer agree on.
These days are paid at your usual rate and are designed to assist you in keeping in touch with your employer and colleagues while you are on leave.
It's a good way to help you return to employment after leave gradually.
Your employer must also consult with you if there are any significant changes to your job while you’re on leave.
Returning from leave early
You might decide to shorten the amount of leave than originally planned. If that's the case, you need to have this discussion with your employer.
In this case, they can choose to agree or not agree. If they don’t agree, you have to return to work on the planned date.
But, there is an exception: If you want to reduce or cancel your period of unpaid leave because of a still birth or death, you can end your leave by giving your employer 4 weeks notice.
Extending your leave
If you are taking unpaid leave, you are able to apply to extend your time off. The amount of time will depend on your original leave period.
- Extending leave in the first 12 months: You can extend your leave period up to the 12 month limit if your original unpaid leave period was less than that. Your employer needs to agree for anything above and beyond the 12 months.
- Extending leave beyond the initial 12 months: If you’ve taken 12 months unpaid parental leave, you can apply to extend your leave to a total of 24 months. But, your employer can refuse the request on reasonable grounds but they need to have a discussion with you first.
Ending your employment while on leave
You have every right to resign from your job while you're on parental leave. Just make sure you give the correct notice period to your employer and use your parental leave as the notice period.
Your rights when returning to work
These are your entitlements when it's time to return to work after your parental leave.
If you were entitled to parental leave under the Fair Work Act, then you have the right to work guarantee. What this means is that you have the right to return to your pre-parental leave position. Exactly the way you left it (unless your employer spoke to you about any changes while you were on leave).
If you were transferred to a safe job before you took leave you are entitled to return to the job you had before the transfer.
If, for some reason, your position no longer exists then you are entitled to another position that is similar in status and pay.
That's the work guarantee.
Flexible work arrangement
Going back to work while having a little human to care for requires some flexibility. That means you are entitled to request flexible working arrangements if you've worked for at least 12 months with your employer before making the request.
You can ask for things like changes to your start and finish times, job sharing or working from home. You can also request flexible working arrangements if you are a parent, or have the responsibility of care for a child who is school aged or younger.
Your employer has the right to refuse the request on reasonable business grounds, however, the reasons for refusal must be in writing.
The same goes for casual employees. If you’ve been working for 12 months consistently and have a reasonable expectation of continuing employment with the employer on a regular basis.
It's best practice for an employer to support their employees who are breastfeeding by ensuring they have suitable facilities to store and pump breast milk. You should also be given the appropriate breaks to breastfeed.
Also know that breastfeeding is a protected ground of discrimination. That means failure to provide adequate facilities may constitute discrimination and a breach of work health and safety laws.
Thinking about having another child after this one?
Well, the good news is that if you have taken parental leave, you don’t have to work for another 12 months before you can take another period of parental leave with the same employer.
But, if you started work with a new employer, you will still need to work with that employer for at least 12 months before you are entitled to parental leave.
It's planning time
Once you've worked out the type of parental leave you're entitled to, make sure you give your employer adequate notice.
Once you've got the calendar dates set, then it's best to go straight to the source of truth (aka the Australian Government Site) to gather extra information around what documents you might need to provide, or forms you need to fill in to ensure you get any payments you're eligible for.
It's best to get all of this admin done as soon as you can, mainly because it's not that fun and you could instead be buying cute baby things.
Image credit: Getty Images