Maternity Leave: How does it work?

Having a baby is one of the most amazing experiences life can give you. Not only are you gifted with the responsibility of creating a life, you are also blessed with the responsibility of raising that life into a full-blown human being. That’s why maternity leave is such an important time for new parents. It’s those first few weeks and months after giving birth is a very important time for both mother and child.

Studies have shown that there have been measurable health benefits for children whose parents took maternity leave. These health benefits extend beyond infancy. This is because parental leave can help strengthen parental bonds and benefit children during those initial developmental years.

First time parents may be slightly unaware of how maternity leave works and the importance of it. Or perhaps some mothers worry about their job security if they take time off to have a baby. It’s completely understandable to be a little anxious about something you’ve never had to think too much about before. Nevertheless, having a baby may have just become a reality for you, or perhaps it will in the future.

Therefore, we have put together an extremely factual and informative article about how maternity leave works. We’ve also added in why it’s so important for new parents to plan. You don’t want to be going through ‘Sleep Wars: The Baby Awakens’ when you’re also working a full-time job. Keep reading and find out how to give your new little storm pooper the best introduction to the world.

What is maternity leave?

In Australia, employees can get maternity leave from the Australian Government as well as from their employer. To be eligible for maternity leave through your employer, you would need to have been working for them for at least 12 months before your due date.

The Australian Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme entitles eligible employees to 12 months of unpaid maternity leave. The scheme will also give employees who are the primary carer of a child 18 weeks of paid maternity leave. Payments will be paid at the national minimum wage rate.

The Government makes the maternity leave payments to the employer first, who then pays the employee. The employer can pay the employee before, after or at the same time as other entitlements such as annual leave and long service leave.

Employees may also receive paid maternity leave directly from their employer as well. That is generally subject to the separate agreement you’ve made with your employer and it won’t affect your maternity leave payments that you receive from the Government.

Paid parental leave is basically the same as receiving your regular salary or wages, except instead of working, you’re at home with a cute, squishy, crying, awake little bundle of joy. It can be a bitter sweet kind of situation but, either way, you’re still getting the financial support that you need.

Who can apply for maternity leave?

As the name suggests, employees can take maternity leave when they give birth. Employees can also take maternity leave when their partner gives birth or they adopt a child under the age of 16. As mentioned before, employees are entitled to 12 months of unpaid maternity leave. They they can also request to extend their leave by an additional 12 months.

Employees can take maternity leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months:

  • Before the date or expected date of birth if the employee is pregnant,
  • Before the date of adoption, or
  • When the leave starts (if the leave is taken after another person cares for the child or takes parental leave)

Casual employees can also apply for maternity leave under the same conditions. However, there must be a reasonable expectation of continuing work with the employer on a regular and systematic basis, had it not been for the birth of adoption of the child.

Australian Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme

The Government set up this maternity leave scheme to allow eligible parents to take time off work to care for a newborn or recently adopted child. The scheme is an addition to any other leave entitlements the parent may also receive. For example, paid or unpaid leave from their employer.

The Government designed the Paid Parental Leave Scheme to show parents taking time out of the paid workforce to care for their child is a usual course of life. It also helps to promote equality between men and women. Furthermore, it assists new parents in balancing their work and family life.

This maternity leave scheme is also very useful for employers in the sense that they will be able to retain valuable and skilled staff. Employers do this by encouraging employees to stay connected to their workplace when they have a baby. It has also helped to encourage family friendly workplace environments without the employer having to fund the maternity leave themselves.

This scheme is also great for encouraging parents to maintain their participation in the workforce even after they’ve become parents. If these types of entitlements weren’t available, it could potentially decrease the number of parents, mothers especially, who return to work after having a baby.

There are 2 different types of payments under this paid maternity leave scheme. These include:

Parental Leave Pay

Parental Leave Pay is for the primary carer of the child. They are entitled to 18 weeks of pay based on the rate of the national minimum wage. To be eligible for these payments, parents must be on paid or unpaid leave or not working from the time they became their child’s primary carer until the end of their paid maternity leave period.

The Parental Leave Pay is typically paid to the employer who will then make the payment to their employee.

Employer’s role in the Parental Leave Pay Scheme

It is up to the employee to apply for their Parental Leave pay through the government. Centrelink is responsible for the payment scheme and will contact the employer when they require them to provide Parental Leave Pay to an employee. They also provide the necessary funds to cover the maternity leave payments.

An employer must provide paid maternity leave to an employee when they:

  • Have a newborn or recently adopted child
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months
  • Will be employed at the company until at least the end of their paid maternity leave period
  • Is Australian based
  • Is expected to receive at least 8 weeks of Parental Leave Pay

If an employee doesn’t meet these criteria then the employer won’t be required to provide maternity leave payments. However, if both employee and employer agree, the employer can select to provide payments as long as they are eligible. In this case, they would need to register for Centrelink Business Online Services and then opt in to provide Parental Leave Pay before their employee submits their claim.

An employer is not required to provide Parental Leave pay if their employee:

  • Claims Parental Leave Pay for a child who is born or adopted on or after 1 October 2016, and
  • Receives an income support payment from Centrelink during the same period for which they would receive maternity leave pay.

Centrelink will make the payments directly to the eligible parent in the case that an employer is not required to provide Parental Leave Pay to their employee.

Dad and Partner Pay

This is the second type of payment that parents can receive when on maternity leave. Dad and Partner Pay is available for eligible working dads or partners. This scheme is inclusive of adopting parents and same sex couples. Eligible parents may get up to 2 weeks’ pay based on the national minimum wage rates. To qualify, partners must either be on unpaid leave or not working during this time.

Centrelink will make the dad and partner payments directly to the employee. It is up to the employee to approach their employer about taking unpaid leave in order for them to be able to receive the payment.

Employer’s role with Dad and Partner Pay

Employers don’t tend to have too much involvement in the Dad and Partner Pay scheme. They just need to be aware that an employee may approach them about taking leave so they are eligible for the payments.

It is up to the employee to apply for Dad and Partner Pay directly through Centrelink and to negotiate leave arrangements with their employer. The employer may then choose to provide their employee with additional payments to supplement their Dad and Partner Pay. An example of this is when an employer decides to pay the difference between the Da and Partner payment amount and the employee’s usual wage. This is completely up to the employer to initiate.

For more information on the Australian Government Parental Leave Payment Scheme, visit the Department of Human Services website.

Employer-provided paid maternity leave

Currently, employer-provided paid maternity leave is not a legislative requirement for private-sector employers in Australia. It is up to the employer to choose whether to provide paid maternity leave in addition to the employee’s government-provided payments. Employers are, however, required to allow 12 months of unpaid maternity leave to the primary carer of the child.

Some employers who do provide their own paid maternity leave for employees may also provide payment for those on paternity leave. Paternity leave refers to the dads and partners of women who are taking maternity leave on the birth or adoption of a child.

The health and wellbeing of new mothers and babies is one reason that employers are choosing the provide their own paid maternity leave. Maternity leave enables women to spend the first few weeks of a child’s life recovering from the birth and nurturing the baby. For this reason, the International Labour Organisation has recommended that employees get 14 weeks of leave and the World Health Organisation has recommended 16 weeks of leave.

The government expects employers to work with their employees when they are returning to the workforce after their maternity leave. The employer is entitled to request flexible working arrangements on their return. This may include returning to work on a temporary part-time basis or with different start and finish times.

Keeping up with appointments

Your pregnancy may require you to attend any appointments before and after your maternity leave. Your usual health maintenance/ sick time off should cover these appointments. Make sure you communicate with your employer to ensure you both have a clear understanding of your situation.

Protections against discrimination

The Fair Work Act 2009 brought in certain discrimination laws that made in unlawful for an employer to dismiss employees because of their responsibilities to care for a child. The Australian Human Rights Commission is another governing body that ensures the community sticks by the anti-discrimination laws. If there is an infringement, they will investigate.

Pregnancy discrimination is unfortunately still apparent in some workplaces throughout Australia. It basically refers to when women are denied equal opportunities for employment advancement and promotion on the grounds of them being pregnant. If the employer commits discrimination when they change the conditions of a woman’s employment because she is pregnant. She may be demoted, retrenched or her employer won’t include her in opportunities for job education training.

Another example of pregnancy discrimination is if a woman is not employed because her potential employer has suspected she may be pregnant, or has the potential to become pregnant. However, proving this can be very difficult.

Have you been discriminated against because of your pregnancy?

If you suspect that your employer is treating you differently in the workplace because of your pregnancy, you have every right to question it. It may become apparent that the shift in your treatment is due to your pregnancy instead of your work performance. If that is the case, there are formal means you can pursue.

Are you having workplace issues because of your pregnancy? If so, you should report them to the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will give you 21 days from the day you were fired or discriminated against to lodge an application.

You could also check the Australian Human Rights Commission to become more familiar with your rights. Feel free to call the complaint information line on 1300 656 419 to discuss your concerns.

How to prevent problems throughout your maternity leave

It’s important to keep an open and honest line of communication between yourself and your employer for the duration of your maternity leave. As apprehensive as you may be to inform your employer of your pregnancy in the first place, there will come a time when you won’t be able to hide it anymore.

It’s best to be up front about your situation to allow for more flexible negotiations regarding your paid or unpaid maternity leave. You should also comply with any requests your employer makes. Your employer may ask you to help fill your position while you are on leave. Also, if you need cash on the spot, check this out.

If you require any more information about maternity leave or pregnancy discrimination, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman.