Maternity leave Q&A
Congratulations, you're pregnant! Now what?
Here's our guide on how to navigate maternity (or paternity) leave like a boss
Words Jai Breitnauer
There's no such thing as a perfect time to get pregnant. We all have to navigate the situation as best we can - especially when it comes to work. But it never hurts to be prepared. We've contacted the experts to find out what your rights are, how to apply for paid-parental leave, and what to do if you decide not to go back to work - or to negotiate more flexible working hours.
Q. How and when should I tell work I'm pregnant? What responsibilities do they have to me before I go on parental leave?
“There's no legal obligation to tell your employer when you find out you're pregnant,” says Jessie Lapthorne, a partner at legal firm Duncan Cotterill, who is currently on parental leave with her third child. “You have an obligation to give three-months notice if you want to take parental leave, setting out the date you want your leave to start and the duration.
“That said, as a matter of courtesy and in keeping with the duty of good faith, it’s probably best to let them know as soon as you are comfortable doing so, so that they can begin to think about how to cover your absence. It’s completely up to the individual, but I preferred to tell them before it became obvious and they guessed!”
Lapthorne says that once you’ve told work you’re pregnant, you can take advantage of 10 days ‘special leave’ for appointments related to pregnancy. Just be aware that this is technically unpaid. If you’re having fertility treatment, you might want to let your manager know so you can take advantage of this – but ask them to keep it quiet. Once you go on maternity leave, you will be entitled to weekly payments, although not the same as your salary.
“Paid Parental Leave is paid by the Government. The amount is based on an employee’s earnings and is the greater of the employee’s ‘ordinary weekly pay’ or ‘average weekly earnings’ up to a maximum of $564.38 (gross),” says Lapthorne, who also notes that while you are on leave, you should still be considered for pay reviews and promotions that would have been on the cards while you were in the office. “You should not be treated any differently to other employees as a result of being on parental leave. This could amount to discrimination.”
In addition, your employer usually has to keep your role open and allow you to take time off for maternity leave. “In most cases, the employer is obliged to keep your job open for the duration of your parental leave. There are a couple of exceptions, such as when you are employed in such a key position that temporary cover would not be practicable or if a redundancy situation arises, meaning that your role would no longer exist,” says Lapthorne. “You can be made redundant when on maternity leave, but there is a higher obligation on the employer when the redundancy concerns someone on parental leave.” The onus is on your employer to show that the selection process has been fair.
Q. Can work contact me while I'm on maternity leave, and when do I have to go back?
“You determine how much leave you take,” says Lapthorne. “You can return to work at the end of the leave period, or earlier. If you decide to return earlier than originally indicated, you just have to give 21 days notice.”
When paid leave ends after 22 weeks, you are entitled to 52-weeks in total - but the remainder will be unpaid. During this time, work shouldn't really contact you. If you have a senior role, you might find it useful to be on mailing lists or sent meeting minutes, and occasionally, your cover person, someone from your team or your boss might need your advice. If you feel contact with work is interfering with your role as a mum, you might need to speak to HR about setting boundaries. When the time comes to return to work, you may not feel you want to return to a full-time role, or you may need flexibility.
“You have the right to make a flexible working request, asking to change your hours of work, days of work or work location and your employer has an obligation to consider this and respond to you within a set timeframe, confirming whether or not your request can be accommodated,” says Lapthorne. “Employers can only refuse your request on specific grounds, and they have to tell you, and explain, which ground their refusal is based on.” After discussing arrangements for returning to work with your employerand your partner, you may find that you would prefer to stay at home longer.
“If you don't want to go back, the notice requirement is 21-days prior to the date you indicated to return,” says Lapthorne. “There is no obligation to pay back Paid Parental Leave payments received from the Government if you do not return.” At this point your employer may no longer be able to hold your job open. However, if you just need a couple of months due to health or childcare issues, speak with your employer and see what can be done. If you are valued, they will try and support your return to work on mutually beneficial terms.
The stay-at-home dad
Brendan Miller used to be a people manager, but decided to stay at home and manage his two daughters. “My partner Deon is a lawyer. We didn't plan for me to become a stay-at-home dad - I just decided that during that time I wanted to be a more active dad and involved parent. We took a total of 52 weeks off between us. Deon took eight months and I took four. I gave my employer four months notice, but I felt they only gave me the time off because they legally had to. I knew I was entitled to it, and I went into the conversation informed.”
When Charlotte was born, Brendan had just taken on a more challenging role. “I was travelling a lot, away from home, and I was missing a lot. We were paying a nanny most of what I earned.” Brendan feels there is an expectation that mum will be the primary carer. “It's only just starting to change. In my career, I was managing 90 per cent women and there was an understanding that most of them would go on maternity leave at some point. That made my life easier too, they were a forward-thinking organisation.”
Pre-term payments were introduced in April 2016, and are payments in addition to usual maternity leave for those whose child has been born prematurely (to a maximum of 13 weeks). They begin the day the child is born, and end the day the child was due, or when you return to work if this is earlier.
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