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Parental Leave: What you need to know

January 29, 2016


Our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service recently received an interesting question from a client about parental leave; “can a surrogate mother take parental leave?” This was a good example of one of the many unique situations that the Fair Wok Act simply does not contemplate. Luckily for our client, they had HR Assured and one of our experienced consultants was able to assist them.

We’ve taken the opportunity to compile a list of the common questions that our clients ask about parental leave.

Q: Who can take parental leave?

An employee may take 12 months of unpaid parental leave providing that:

  • the leave is associated with the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption; and
  • the employee will have responsibility for the care of the child

The employee must have completed at least 12 months of continuous service to be eligible. If they are a casual employee, there must also be a reasonable expectation of continuing employment on a regular and systematic basis.

Q: What notice does the employee have to give me?

The employee is required to notify you of the intended start and end dates of their parental leave at least 10 weeks before the leave is due to commence. These details should be confirmed at least 4 weeks before the intended start date of the leave.

If you become aware that an employee intends to take parental leave, you should discuss their intended start and end dates as early as possible. Many of the issues that our clients experience are caused by uncertainty around when an employee will commence their leave and how long they will be absent for.

Q: Can an employee extend a period of parental leave?

Yes. Where the employee has elected to take less than their 12 month entitlement, they may extend their parental leave by giving you written notice at least 4 weeks prior to their original end date. If the employee has previously requested an extension, they may request a further extension, but only if you agree.

If an employee intends to use all 12 months of their parental leave, they may request to extend their parental leave for up to a further 12 months. This request should be made in writing at least 4 weeks prior to the end of the original parental leave period.  While you may refuse such a request on reasonable business grounds, you must first give the employee with a reasonable opportunity to discuss the request and provide a written response within 21 days of receiving the request.

Q: What if an employee wants to return to work early?

An employee may reduce their period of parental leave at any time, but only if you agree.

Q: Do I have to offer the employee their pre-parental leave position when they return?

Yes. On ending a period of parental leave, an employee has the right to return to their pre-parental leave position or, if that position no longer exists, an available position suited nearest in status and pay to the employee’s pre-parental leave position. However, we strongly suggest that you seek advice in the instance that the role of an employee who is on parental is expected to change.

Q: What if the employee wants to return to work part-time?

While the employee has the right to return to their pre-parental leave position, a parent returning from a period of parental leave also the right to make a request for a flexible working arrangement. This may include a part-time role or varying their hours to accommodate their parenting responsibilities.

You are required to consider the request and provide a written response within 21 days. You can only refuse the request on reasonable business grounds, such as that:

  • the new working arrangements would be too costly (more costly is not necessarily sufficient); or
  • there is no capacity to change the working arrangements of other employees to accommodate the new working arrangements; or
  • the new working arrangements would result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity.

For more information on the parental leave and what this means for you, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.