More Parental Leave

More, more, more.

That is the effect of recent changes to rights relating to parental leave.

Not only will more people now be entitled to paid leave, the periods of paid and extended leave have also increased.

There is also a provision to allow parents to keep in touch with their workplaces, while receiving parental leave payments in a way that was not possible before.

AM I ENTITLED TO PARENTAL LEAVE PAYMENTS?

Previously, to qualify for the parental leave payments from the Government, you had to work for a continuous period of at least six months with the same employer prior to the baby’s due date.

In some cases that made it difficult to qualify for mothers who had sporadic employment up to the date of birth, or who had unfortunately been made redundant through no fault of their own.

The test is now whether you have been employed or self-employed for at least an average of 10 hours a week for any 26 of the 52 weeks immediately preceding your due date. That will make it much easier to expectant mothers to qualify.

HOW MUCH MONEY DO I GET?

The amount of parental leave payments provided by the Government is up to 18 weeks’ pay at the going rate (an increase from 16 weeks previously).

As of April 2016, the weekly payment is set at a maximum of $516.85. That, however, is the maximum. If your ordinary weekly income (or your average weekly income from the 26 best-earning weeks during the past year) is less, then you will be paid the lesser amount.

That means at present the maximum payment you can receive for a period of parental leave is $9,303.30 (less tax).

Having said that, if your baby arrives well before the due date, you may be entitled to receive up to 13 further weeks of payment. That is a welcome relief to those who have to care for their pre-term bundles of joy.

MORE TIME AWAY FROM WORK

Although you may be entitled to payments while you are nursing your newborn, it may not be the case that your employer has to keep your job open for you. The test is different.

This period of leave is now called primary-carer leave. Previously, if you had not worked for your employer for a year prior to your due date, you were only entitled to 16 weeks of such leave. That minimum has now increased to 18 weeks.

You can also get extended leave beyond that minimum term depending on how long you have been working prior to your due date.

Employed for at least 26 weeks prior to due date?

If you have been employed by your employer for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks (at an average of 10 hours per week) prior to your due date, you qualify for up to 26 weeks of extended leave. At the end of that leave you will be entitled to return to your job if you wish, because your employer has to keep your job open for you (unless there are good reasons not to).

Employed for 52 weeks or more prior to due date?

If you have been employed by your employer for a continuous period of 52 weeks or more prior to your due date, then you get up to 52 weeks of extended leave.

Employed for less than 26 weeks?

If you don’t meet either of the above tests, don’t worry. You can still seek to negotiate with your employer for a period of primary-carer leave or extended leave. In that case you must make the request in a particular form. Once you have done so, there are strict obligations on your employer to respond as soon as possible.

They can only deny your request on the basis of grounds that are specified in the Act, such as the inability to reorganise your work among existing staff or to recruit others to do your job.

KEEPING IN TOUCH WITH WORK

One issue with the way the previous legislation worked was that it prevented parents from being able to stay in touch with the workplace.

Obviously, it’s important that they do keep in touch with their colleagues, so that they feel like they are a part of things when they return. A lot can change in the workplace when you have been away for up to a year.

But formerly, parents were not incentivised to keep such a close connection to the workplace because if they were seen to be returning to work, then the Government would stop paying them the parental leave payments.

Clearly, the Government was not going to be interested in allowing people to double-dip – both getting the parental leave payment and receiving an income for work done.

But there was a balance to be struck. And that is what has happened with these latest changes.

You will now be allowed to return to the workplace for visits without fear of forfeiting your parental leave payments if:

  • you work no more than 40 hours during the period that you are receiving parental leave payments from the Government;
  • you and your employer agree that you will do that work; and
  • the work is not done during any of the first 28 days after your child was born.

You must still notify the IRD if you fully return to work during the time that you are receiving parental leave payments. You can do that by writing to them or giving them a call. But this new change means you do not have to notify them if you are going back for some agreed training or additional work, and you do not do more than 40 hours in total.

CONCLUSION

The changes to the parental leave regime will be welcome to any expectant parents. They provide for more payments, more potential leave from work, and greater flexibility in keeping in touch with the workplace during leave.