An employer’s guide to parental leave

Read BrightHR’s advice for supporting new parents on your team, learn the rules on parental leave, and make sure you comply with the latest employment relations advice.

First published on Thursday, Aug 31, 2023

Last updated on Friday, Sep 01, 2023

6 min read

Starting a family is an exciting time filled with change. Staying up-to-date with the right parental leave laws is not only your legal responsibility as an employer, but supporting parents with their new dual role will help your relationship with your staff.

So, what rules do you need to follow for new parents?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Parental leave in Australia

Parental leave looks a little different in Australia.

Parental leave is a benefit available to all full time, part time, and regular casual employees when an employee welcomes a child. This includes stillbirths, surrogacy, and adoption and can be unpaid or paid leave.

Data from 2020-2021 shows us that 60% of employers offer paid parental leave in addition to the Government Paid Parental Leave scheme.

This availability of paid parental leave encourages a more equal division of child-care, in a bid to improve work-life balance in families. But while women make up 88% of all primary carer’s leave, only 12% of men account for the utilisation of this leave entitlement.

There may be many reasons for this woefully low number. It could be the case that families cannot afford for both new parents to take their full leave entitlement, paid or unpaid, or that new fathers are unaware of how much leave they’re entitled to.

Eligibility for parental leave

All full time, part time, and regular casual employees are entitled to unpaid parental leave.

Employees who aren’t pregnant are entitled to: compassionate leave, and unpaid pre-adoption leave based on their unique circumstances.

Your employee is entitled to parental leave if:

  • They have been continuously employed for at least 12 months before

    • the date of birth or anticipated date of birth,
    • the date of the adoption, and
    • when the leave is set to begin.

The latter applies to your employee if another person, like their partner, has cared for the child or has taken parental leave before your employee takes leave.

  • They already have or will *hold responsibility for the care of the child. *

And one of the following must apply to your employee. They must:

  • Give birth
  • Have a spouse or de facto partner who has given birth
  • Adopt a child under the age of 16

Bear in mind that employees must give you at least 10 weeks of notice of their intention to take parental leave and this notice should be put into writing.

So, now that you know who is entitled to parental leave, let’s dive into how long your employees may be off for.

Parental leave entitlements

Employees in Australia have access to both unpaid and paid parental leave.

They can be eligible for paid parental leave from two sources:

  • Their employer
  • The Australian Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme

That means that just because an employee can access employer-paid parental leave, their ability to access the Government’s paid leave scheme remains unchanged.

Starting from 1 July 2023, the Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme allows partnered couples to claim up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave between them, while single parents can claim the full 20 weeks themselves. This is paid at the national minimum wage rate.

As an employer, you can provide paid parental leave as an incentive outlined in your workplace policies, agreements, and employment contracts.

On top of both these paid leave entitlements, your employees are also entitled to unpaid parental leave. Unpaid parental leave can last a period of 12 months, and employees can apply for a further 12 months with their employer.

We mentioned before that the percentage of men taking primary carer’s leave is low, and why that may be. That’s why it’s important to be as supportive as you possibly can, offer accurate and informative policies to guide your staff and encourage a work culture that embraces parental leave.

Returning to work after parental leave

Coming back from any kind of leave is daunting. We’ve all been there, even after one week’s holiday—it can be nerve-wracking to pick up where you left off!

There are already a few methods set in place to make the transition as easy as possible for your staff as they settle into their new role as a working parent.

One relatively recent update has been flexible parental leave. This lets new parents take leave as either one continuous period spanning one day or longer, or separate periods of leave of one day or longer.

For an employee who’s had a child birthed or placed before 1 July 2023, they can take up to 30 days of their 12-month unpaid parental leave on a flexible basis up to the child’s second birthday or placement anniversary.

If the birth or placement takes place after 1 July 2023, the employee can take up to 100 days of their unpaid parental leave as flexible unpaid parental leave. This is applicable for a period of 6 weeks before and up to 24 months after their child’s birth.

Another important thing to note is that employees who have already taken parental leave, don’t have to put in another 12 months of work to take another stint of parental leave with the same employer.

Looking for more in-depth parental leave advice? Talk to our advisers

How you approach parental leave in your business is incredibly important.

Not only is it a way to set yourself apart in a competitive labour market, but it also transforms employee loyalty, and showcases where your priorities lie.

You will not just be supporting new fathers throughout this transformative period, but will actively add value to their lives and make them more likely to stick with you in the long term.

Our experienced employment relations advisers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help answer your questions about parental leave. Plus, as BrightAdvice is unlimited, you can call as many times as you like.

Not a BrightAdvice customer? Discover more about our expert advice line.

Want quick answers in a hurry? Learn more about parental leave by asking BrightLightning:

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