What is parental leave?

Parental leave refers to:

  • maternity leave
  • paternity leave
  • adoption leave

Pregnancy and parental leave entitlements are covered by the National Employment Standards (NES), which sets the minimum conditions for most employees in Australia.

Paid parental leave

Eligible working parents receive 18 weeks of parental leave pay at the national minimum wage. This is fully funded by the Australian Government, though employers must process the payments through their payroll.

Dad and partner pay

Eligible working dads and partners can receive 2 weeks of government-funded pay through Dad and Partner Pay after having a baby or adopting a child. This includes same-sex parents.

Employers don't have to process the payments but must keep certain records.

Unpaid parental leave

Employees who have worked for you more than 12 months are entitled to at least 12 months of unpaid parental leave if the employee has or will have the responsibility to care for a child or adopted child under 16 years old. The unpaid leave entitlement includes regular casuals.

These are the minimum entitlements available for all employees under the NES:

  • Both parents in a relationship are entitled to unpaid parental leave, regardless of sex. It includes de facto couples.
  • Both parents can take parental leave but generally not at the same time. Usually, parents can only take leave at the same time for up to 3 weeks immediately after the birth of their child or placement of their adopted child. The timing of this can be changed if the employer agrees.
  • Unpaid parental leave can be extended beyond 12 months but couples cannot take more than 24 months between them.
  • Employees must request parental leave in writing at least 10 weeks before the leave start date, unless this isn't reasonably possible.
  • Employees on parental leave have a legal right to return to their job or a job of equivalent pay and status once they return from leave.

Pregnancy at work

Under the NES, a pregnant employee with at least 12 months of service (including a regular casual) has the right to:

  • transfer to a safe job if their pregnancy stops them from performing their normal job – if there's no safe job available, an employee can take paid 'no safe job' leave
  • have equal access to work opportunities such as promotions, transfers and performance management
  • take maternity leave
  • request flexible working arrangements after returning to work
  • have freedom from discrimination, harassment or bullying

Pregnancy discrimination

It's against the law to discriminate against someone who is pregnant or who might become pregnant.

Supporting an employee to return to work

It's important that an employee feels supported during the pregnancy or adoption process and while they're on leave. Supported employees are likely to be more productive before they go on leave and to return to work in a positive frame of mind.

When you have an employee who is expecting a child:

  1. Talk to them about their options and entitlements.
  2. Check if they're eligible for paid parental leave.
  3. Keep in touch while they're on leave.
  4. Discuss a return to work plan that suits both you and the employee.
  5. Support them in their to return to work.

Maintaining good communication

Make sure you communicate with employees on leave regularly at all stages, including their rights and responsibilities and both of your expectations.

It's a good idea to write down what's agreed about contact. Employees on parental leave might like to be invited to company functions and social events.

Our page on communication skills for managers can help you maintain good communication with staff away on parental leave.

Employees also have certain obligations when providing notice to employers about changes to parental leave.

Communicating your leave policies

Your business should have pregnancy and parental leave policies, even if you think your staff aren't likely to become parents soon.

Ensure your staff are aware of your policies by including them in your HR policies and procedures manual.