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What to Expect When Your Employees Are Expecting: Parental Leave

Published August 09, 2016 (last updated February 1, 2021) -
father on parental leave feeding his child

Over recent years, there have been a number of regulatory changes that have shaped parental leave in New Zealand. Below is Employsure’s guide on what to expect when your employees are expecting.

Who is eligible for unpaid parental leave?

Parental leave is for an employee or their spouse or partner, who gives birth or has permanent responsibility for the care of a child under six. Parental leave can be taken by one parent or split between them, as long as they both are eligible. The employee can take parental leave again for a different child as long as they have been back at work for six months before the expected arrival or care of the next child.

What is the entitlement?

Employees are entitled to this type of leave once they have completed at least an average of 10 hours a week for 12 months or more just before the expected birth of the child, or the date they will assume responsibility for care of the child. In this case the entitlement is:

  • 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave

Employees who have worked for at least an average 10 hours a week for six months or more just before the expected birth of the child, or date the will assume responsibility for care of the child, are entitled to:

  • 26 weeks of unpaid parental leave

Employees who do not meet the criteria for parental leave, e.g. they have worked for less than six months or have not done an average of 10 hours a week, are not entitled to any parental leave.

Notice and evidence

As the employer, you need to receive written notice of intention to take this type of leave at least three months in advance. The written notice must inform you of the intended start and finish date and confirm this at least four weeks before. You need to respond in writing within 21 days and can only refuse on reasonable business grounds.

If the employee intends to start being the permanent primary carer of a child under six years, they must provide at least 14 days written notice.

The written notice must specify:

  • what type of leave is being requested
  • the date requested to start, and
  • how long the period of leave will be

If the employee is sharing any part of the leave with their spouse or partner, the notice must also include:

  • start and finish period of leave for each partner
  • the spouse or partner’s name and, if they are an employee, the name and address of their employer, and
  • the total amount of leave the spouse or partner are taking  – not exceeding more than 52 weeks

Partner’s leave

Fathers or partners who are not the primary carer of a child under six are entitled to:

  • one week of unpaid leave if they have worked for you for an average of 10 hours a week for six months
  • two weeks of unpaid leave if they have worked for you for an average of 10 hours a week for 12 months

They can take this leave between 21 days before the expected birth, or the date their partner intends to become the primary carer, and 21 days after, unless you agree otherwise. This leave is in addition to any other parental leave they’re sharing with their partner.

Law changes mean that those qualifying for parental leave are allowed to work up to 40 hours for their employer while on paid or unpaid leave. Both employer and employee must agree to this.

Returning to work

The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 requires the employer to keep the employee’s position open while they are on leave under the Act. You need to consult with the employee about any possible changes to working conditions that could affect them.

After taking parental leave, the employee is required to give their employer 21 days written notice before the period of leave ends, advising whether or not they will be returning to work. If the employee chooses not to return to work or fails, without good cause, to return to work after the end of the period of parental leave, their employment is treated as having terminated on the day on which the parental leave began.

It is relatively common for an employee returning to work from parental leave to want to work part-time, or in some way vary their hours or place of work to make it possible to continue in their job and care for their child or children. Under Employment Relations Act 2000, if an employee has been employed by their employer for the preceding six months or more, and has the care of any person (such as a child), they have a statutory right to request a variation of their working arrangements. Employers can only refuse such a request on reasonable grounds.

Employers who implement best parental leave practice and policies can play a critical role in supporting and valuing staff who are considering or expecting a child or who are returning to work from parental leave. These practices can have a significant impact on the retention rate of employees, particularly those returning from parental leave, while reducing recruitment and training costs, and improving staff morale and productivity.

Contact Employsure today on 0800 568 012 to learn more about parental leave entitlements and the ideal policies to adopt.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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