maternity leave, parental leave – what does it all mean?

Many women find choosing the right time to have a baby a difficult decision.

While there are many factors to take into consideration, I still believe the best advice is that there’s no perfect time, and if you and your partner are truly ready emotionally, then the right time is any time.

However, there are some practical considerations to take into account.  Ill try to touch on just a few of them here.  Bear in mind I’m no HR or legal expert, but have worked in HR in some capacity for a number of years.

Here are some random tips that I hope you will find useful:

Paid parental leave

The new (Australian) government parental leave scheme provides for 18 weeks leave, paid at minimum wage – currently $570/week – to anyone who has worked a minimum of one day per week over the past twelve months, whether that be self employed, full time or casual.  

Payments are made irrespective of length of service with any employer ie so long as you have worked the minimum hours, it could have been with ten different employers – you are still eligible.

This scheme is also independent of your partners salary – payments are made so long as the primary carer had an individual income of less than $150k in the year prior to taking parental leave.

Maternity leave

The paid parental leave scheme is separate to the twelve months maternity leave provision which entitles you to return to your previous position (or a very similar one) within that company after a year (or less) off with your baby. 

For this entitlement you must have been with your employer for at least twelve months before taking leave.

If you are very lucky your employer will pay you for all or some of this leave, in addition to the paid parental leave described above.

Dealing with HR and difficult employers

Don’t take HRs word as god.  While some companies have excellent parent-friendly policies, there are just as many (at least) who are decidedly against all things baby. 

An example is in an interview.  While you are no longer to ask someone if they have children (the employer’s assumption being you will be unsuitable as a worker if, on occasion, you might need to take time to look after a sick child, or whatever) they get around this by asking about your interests outside of work, or casually asking about your family, or asking “is there anything that would prevent you from doing regular overtime”?

Another, very unfortunate, thing that companies can do is comply with the legal aspects but make your working life so difficult or unreasonable that you are forced to resign ie make it a requirement of your job that you travel two days a week etc. Nasty!

While there is a generous provision in the new laws which requires employers to make reasonable allowances for requests to change your workload, eg a request to job share, leave early twice a week or whatever the case may be, in reality they can say they have made “reasonable’ allowances knowing that it is unlikely a new mother (or father) is going to bother facing the emotional and financial stress of taking the company to court.

Can my partner take parental leave?

If, unlike me, you’re dedicated to your career and don’t want to take the time off, maybe your partner does. 

Well, good news! These provisions apply to whoever is the primary carer, hence the newer term ‘parental’ rather than ‘maternity’ leave.  

The entitlement can even be shared, for example, if you want ten weeks off to bond with the new bub then to head back to the office, then your partner can take the remaining eight weeks.

Sorry for the rant – there’s just a lot of conflicting advice out there and obviously I have a lot to say on the matter!

I hope I haven’t scared anyone – these are just some issues to consider.

It’s also important to note that there are plenty of lovely, flexible and generous employers out there who are happy to bend over backwards to retain hardworking, loyal staff.

Note:  for anyone considering these issues, don’t just take the word of a random blogger, seek legal advice, visit the Fair Work website or talk to your company’s HR rep (at your own risk, remember – they are employed to do the best for your company, not necessarily for you!)

UPDATE:  check out the post on parental leave @ mamamia

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4 Comments to “maternity leave, parental leave – what does it all mean?”

  1. Thank you for the comment! I didn’t know any of that, I’m so out of the loop. I loved reading this post, it’s opened my eyes to newer possibilities. It’s very much put my mind at ease.

  2. Another thing I found out from my HR peeps is that the paid parental scheme appends any current paid parental leave your company offers – so they cannot retract any paid leave your staff benefits entitle you to, just because you now qualify for this.

    Also, the baby bonus and the paid parental leave are mutually exclusive. You can’t claim both.

    Thanks for the article! I found the last bit about how baby-unfriendly companies behave quite an eye-opener.

    • Thanks Velle – great points, good to know existing benefits cant be retracted. I really hope I didnt scare anyone about the baby-unfriendly orgs out there, but its important to know they do exist.

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