Changes to Parental Leave
Changes to Parental Leave
Are your leave policies up-to-date?
As of 1 October 2012 a number of legislative changes relating to parental leave come into effect. Key changes which employers need to be aware of include:
Right to start leave early
Employers may now let a pregnant employee start their parental leave earlier than six weeks before the expected date of the birth of the child, however, there is no legal obligation to do so. Employees can still choose to work right up to the expected birth or placement of their child if they choose to do so and it is safe. Employers have the right to request a certificate from the employee’s doctor if they are concerned about the employee’s wellbeing.
Loss of child
The legislative amendments will also make it possible for employees intending to take parental leave, who suffer the loss or still birth of a child to cancel the requested leave by giving written notice requesting a return to work.
Employers planning on hiring a contractor or temp to replace a permanent employee on parental leave must notify the prospective employee that the arrangement for them to perform the work is temporary. Employers should also advise temporary employees of the rights of the employee they are replacing and that you have the right to cancel the leave if: the pregnancy ends other than by birth of a living child, the child dies after birth or if the employer requires the employee taking unpaid parental leave to return to work because the employee ceases to have any responsibility for the care of the child
Keeping in Touch days
Also set to take effect on 1 October 2012 is a new provision which enables employees to take up to 10 Keeping in Touch days without it affecting their unpaid parental leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards (NES).
According to government information a Keeping in Touch day is a paid work activity which enables an employee on parental leave to:
- Refresh his/her skills
- Become familiar with new or updated processes
- Be involved in meetings which may affect his/her role
The type of paid work activity that your employee does on a Keeping in Touch day will depend on what you and your employee agree on.
It is important to remember that if your employee participates in a workplace activity that he or she is not entitled to be paid for, this does not count as a Keeping in Touch day. Activities which might fall under this category include visiting the workplace to see colleagues, participate in social events and undertake other unpaid activities.
This change to Keeping in Touch days addresses an inconsistency in the current legislation which makes it possible for people under the Federal Government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme to take up to 10 Keeping in Touch days without losing any of their benefits, but doesn’t recognise the rights of people on unpaid parental leave under the NES of the Fair Work Act to do the same.
Under the NES, employees on unpaid parental leave were required to take their leave in a single continuous period, which meant people wanting to take a paid Keeping in Touch day would be in breach of the current legislation and potentially lose the protection it affords, such as the right to return to their pre-parental leave role.
Changes effective in October mean this is no longer the case and employees may perform up to 10 Keeping in Touch days without it affecting their rights under the NES.
Some important points to remember about Keeping in Touch days as of 1 October 2012 are:
- You are not required to offer your employees Keeping in Touch days
- An employee cannot request to take a Keeping in Touch day in the 14 day period directly following the birth of a baby or placement of an adopted child.
- Employers cannot arrange a keeping in touch day in the first six weeks after the date of birth or placement of a child.
- An employee can take up to 10 Keeping in Touch days during the available 12 month unpaid parental leave period. However, if the leave is extended another 10 days will be available.
- An employee on a Keeping in Touch day does not have to work a full day.
- Employers are obliged to pay employees for performing work on a Keeping in Touch day as if it was ordinary work.
- Employers cannot pressure employees into working or not working Keeping in Touch days.
- Unpaid parental leave is not extended by Keeping in Touch days.
Care Corporate has always been a strong advocate of the importance of communicating with employees on leave as a great way of building employee loyalty and engagement. It also makes the transition back to work a lot easier for new parents.
In addition to enabling your employee to take Keeping in Touch days you could also try:
- The unique Care Corporate Stay in Touch Parental Leave program which delivers regular, personalised information to employees on parental leave.
- The occasional phone call to advise employees about key staff or structural changes which could affect their role.
- Inviting employees on leave to social gatherings, such as Christmas parties, family picnic days etc.
- Contacting and arranging to meet your employee on leave a couple of months before their scheduled return to work out a mutually agreeable return to work strategy.
If your company is currently exploring ways to improve gender diversity and build a reputation as a great place for women to work then contact Care Corporate for a demonstration and to learn exactly how the Stay in Touch program could work for your organisation.
This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in September 2012