Managing Parental Leave & the New Family Friendly Workplace

New changes to parental leave have been being widely spoken about in the media, but what does it mean for you and your business?

The Fair Work Australia Act and the introduction of the National Employment Standards (NES) have brought about changes to the entitlements of employees that include access to both paid and unpaid parental leave for both men and women.

Keeping up to date with these changes need not be a minefield as there are some great resources to help employers advise their employees of their entitlements, maintain correct records, manage return to work and stay on top of things while employees are on leave.

What you need to know

Parental leave includes maternity leave (for mums), paternity leave (for dads and partners) and adoption leave, as well as other types of special leave.

There are two types of parental leave available to employees – paid and unpaid.

All full time, part time and casual employees who have worked for their employers for a minimum of 12 months are entitled to claim unpaid parental leave when a new child is born or adopted.

The minimum entitlement for unpaid parental leave for all eligible employees in Australia, even if they are not covered by the National Workplace Relations system, is 12 months.

Government-funded paid parental leave

The government-funded paid parental leave scheme was introduced on 1 January 2011. It provides financial support for parents while they’re off work caring for a newborn or recently adopted child.

There are two government-funded payments available to families under the scheme:
1. The child’s primary carer may receive up to 18 weeks of Parental Leave Pay; and
2. From 1 January 2013, fathers or partners (including adopting parents and same-sex couples) may receive up to two weeks of Dad and Partner Pay.

Both payments are taxable and paid at the rate of the National Minimum Wage (currently $622.20 per week).

Employer-funded paid parental leave

While not required by law, employers may also provide paid parental leave to their staff. The amount of leave and pay entitlements will depend on workplace policies and contracts of employment.

Employer-funded paid parental leave will not affect eligibility or entitlements under the government-funded Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The payments can be paid before, after or at the same time as existing entitlements such as annual leave and long service.

Record keeping and countdown to leave

Key to managing both paid and unpaid parental leave is accurate record keeping. It’s important to remember, for both the employer and employee, to put everything in writing.

12 weeks before – The employee has a responsibility to provide the employer with written notice that they wish to take parental leave. Generally this notice should be provided within three months prior to commencement of leave. An employer is also entitled to ask for evidence to be provided three months before the due date or placement date.

10 weeks before – The employee should provide written notice as to when they intend to start and end their leave. This will assist the employer with managing the replacement employee or allocating duties to other staff members.

6 weeks before – A pregnant employee can work right until the birth of their child. However, if an employee wishes to work within six weeks before the birth, an employer may ask for a medical certificate stating the employee is fit for work.
If the employee can’t provide this, the employer can direct them to take unpaid leave.

4 weeks before – The employee is required to confirm the start and end dates of their leave and advise the employer of any changes as soon as they can.

Keeping in touch – Under the National Employment Standards (NES), employees now have access to ‘Keeping in Touch Days’, which means an employee can come to work for up to 10 days during their paid or unpaid parental leave, without affecting their
leave entitlements.

An employee is entitled to be paid their normal wage for the day (or part day) worked.

Keeping in touch days are designed to ensure that the employee remains engaged in the workplace and is kept up to date with any changes such as introduction of new technology, systems or services.

It is best practice to maintain contact with employees while on parental leave, emailing them with relevant memos and inviting them to special work functions. This helps to ensure a smooth transition back into the workplace.

Changing or extending leave – Maintaining open communication during leave is crucial to keeping things on track. Many employees decide to change their requested leave period after the birth of the baby.

Under the NES, the employee may request to extend their leave by an additional 12 months and an employer may only refuse to extend the leave on reasonable business grounds. Conversely, an employee does not have an automatic entitlement to reduce their leave and come back to work earlier than planned and the employer needs to agree to any changes in return to work dates.

Returning to work – When an employee does return to work, they have the right to come back to the job they had prior to going on leave and in the event that the job no longer exists, the employer has the responsibility to offer the employee another suitable role for which they are suitably qualified and is nearest in pay and status to their original job.

Fair Work Australia and the Department of Human Services provide some excellent forms and take a lot of the guesswork out of what is required for both paid and unpaid parental leave.

Get talking

Encourage employees to talk to you about leave arrangements and parental leave – both paid and unpaid – when they’re expecting a baby or adopting a child. It’s important to know their entitlements, start the conversation early and make sure you both get a chance to clearly communicate your needs and expectations. Some questions to me raised include:

• What other leave is available and how it might be taken at the same time as other parental leave?
• When your employee would like to start their leave and when they expect to return to work?
• How they’d like to manage their return to work, for example, is returning part-time an option?

Replacement employees

A replacement employee can be hired to replace an employee while they are on parental leave. It is important to make things clear to the replacement employees so that they are not disappointed or confused later on, so tell them:

• Their engagement is temporary
• The rights of the person who is on parental leave, including their right to return to work
• The rights of the employer to cancel parental leave in some circumstances such as stillbirth or infant death.

For more information visit:
www.humanservices.gov.au

www.fairwork.gov.au/leave

or call Human Services on 136 150