Taking parental leave
There are rules about when an employee can take unpaid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child under the Fair Work Act.
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Parental leave is a period of unpaid leave to help care for a child. When a parent takes parental leave, they can take up to:
- 12 months, or
- 24 months, if their employer agrees to extend their period of parental leave beyond the initial 12-months.
The leave can be taken:
- as a single continuous period
- flexibly for up to 100 days
- as a combination of a continuous period and flexible days.
How an employee takes parental leave depends on whether the leave is:
Continuous parental leave is one unbroken leave period. There are different rules for employees who take continuous parental leave, depending on their circumstances (for example, pregnant employees, partners or adoptive parents).
Pregnant employee taking parental leave
If a pregnant employee takes parental leave, it must start:
- up to 6 weeks before the expected birth (or earlier if the employer agrees), or
- within 24 months of the birth of the child.
The parental leave has to end within 24 months of the birth of the child.
An employer may direct an employee to start their continuous parental leave 6 weeks before the expected date of birth in certain circumstances. For more information see Directing employees to take parental leave.
Partner taking parental leave
If the employee who isn't pregnant is the parent taking the parental leave, the leave must start and end within 24 months of the birth of the child.
The employee can start parental leave after the birth of the child if they have responsibility for the care of the child.
Adoptive parent taking parental leave
If the leave is adoption related, the employee parent taking leave must start their leave period on the date of placement of the child.
The employee can start unpaid parental leave after the date of placement of the child if they have responsibility for the care of the child.
Flexible parental leave is leave that can be taken flexibly by an employee. This means it can be taken, as a single day or a combination of multiple days.
An employee can take up to 100 days of their 12 month parental leave flexibly up to:
- their child’s second birthday, or
- the second anniversary of their adopted child’s placement.
Flexible unpaid parental leave can be taken as:
- a single continuous period of one day or longer
- separate periods of one day or longer each.
Flexible parental leave can be taken within the first 24 months of the birth or placement of an adopted child. An employee who is pregnant can start taking their flexible parental leave up to 6 weeks before the expected birth of the child.
An employee can take flexible parental leave before and after taking continuous parental leave. The total amount of flexible and continuous leave can’t be more than 12 months (unless an employee extends their leave – see Extending parental leave).
Example: Taking continuous and flexible parental leave
Catherine is a new parent who has returned to work after 10 months of continuous parental leave.
As part of her parental leave request, she asked to take an additional 20 days of parental leave flexibly over the months following her return to work.
Catherine has specialist appointments to attend and other commitments to help care for her child, so she will use flexible parental leave to manage this.
Before starting her flexible parental leave, Catherine gives her employer more than 4 weeks' notice of the specific days she will be taking flexible parental leave to attend the appointments.
On the days of the appointment, Catherine is entitled to take the day off work but she won’t be paid. This is because flexible parental leave under the Fair Work Act is unpaid.
Working parents may both want to take parental leave. The parents can be working for the same or different employers.
Parents who are spouses or in a de facto relationship can take parental leave at the same time. This can be up to 12 months, or 24 months in total if their employer agrees to extend their leave.
Both parents taking parental leave at different times
Parents can each take up to 12 months of parental leave (or up to 24 months in total if their employer agrees to extend their leave). They don’t have to take the leave at the same time as each other. Any flexible parental leave taken is deducted from an employee’s 12 month entitlement.
Example: Both parents taking parental leave
Tom is a full-time employee and is expecting the birth of his first child with partner Sarah. They both want to take unpaid parental leave.
Tom has planned his parental leave to be at the same time Sarah is taking parental leave to help care for the baby.
Tom is taking 6 months of continuous parental leave starting on the date of the child’s birth. Sarah, who is pregnant, will take 12 months continuous parental leave.
Tom knows that in the child’s first year they will need to get vaccinations and attend specialist appointments. Because of this, Tom requests to take an additional 28 days of flexible parental leave after the initial 6-month period to help manage these commitments.
In total, Tom will take 6 months of continuous parental leave and 28 days of flexible parental leave. These periods of continuous and flexible parental leave are unpaid.