Taking parental leave

There are different rules about when an employee can take unpaid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. This depends on whether the leave is:

  • continuous unpaid parental leave
  • flexible unpaid parental leave.

There are also rules for each type of leave when:

  • 1 or both parents take leave
  • both parents take parental leave at the same time, or
  • both parents take parental leave at different times

On this page, find the rules for taking:

  • continuous parental leave
  • flexible parental leave.

Continuous parental leave

One parent taking parental leave

When 1 parent takes unpaid parental leave, they can take up to:

  • 12 months, or
  • 24 months, if their employer agrees.

The leave can be taken as:

  • a single continuous period
  • a single continuous period and a flexible period of up to 30 days.

For information about the rules and requirements for taking flexible unpaid parental leave, see Flexible parental leave.

Pregnant person taking parental leave

If the pregnant employee takes unpaid parental leave, it has to start:

  • on the birth of the child, or
  • up to 6 weeks before the expected birth (or earlier if the employer agrees).

Adoptive parent taking parental leave

If the leave is adoption related, the employee parent taking leave has to start their leave period on the date of placement of the child.

Partner taking parental leave

If the employee who isn't pregnant is the parent taking the unpaid parental leave, the leave must start on the date of birth of the child.

The employee can start unpaid parental leave after the birth of the child if:

  • they have responsibility for the care of the child, and
  • their pregnant partner isn't employed.

The leave has to be taken within 12 months after the birth or placement of the child.

Both parents taking leave

Working parents may both want to take unpaid parental leave. The parents can be working for the same or different employers.

Both parents taking parental leave at the same time

Parents who are married or in a de facto relationship can take up to 8 weeks unpaid parental leave at the same time. This is called 'concurrent leave'.

Concurrent leave can start:

  • on the birth or placement of the child
  • earlier than this date, if the employer agrees, or
  • later than this date, but it has to be within 12 months of the birth or placement of the child.

Concurrent leave can be taken in separate periods. Each period needs to be at least 2 weeks long; however, an employer can agree to shorter lengths.

Concurrent leave is part of an employee's total unpaid parental leave entitlement. This means that any concurrent leave taken is deducted from the total unpaid parental leave entitlement.

Example: Both parents taking unpaid parental leave at the same time

Peter and Leanne both work full-time and are expecting a baby. Leanne plans to take 12 months unpaid parental leave. Peter also intends to take time off when the baby is born.

Leanne's mum will be staying with them for 4 weeks when the baby is born to help. Instead of taking 8 weeks concurrent leave immediately, Peter and his employer agree that he will take 2 weeks unpaid parental leave when the baby is born and another 6 weeks after Leanne's mum goes home.

This 8 weeks of concurrent leave is deducted from their total unpaid parental leave entitlement of 12 months.

Both parents taking parental leave at different times

Each parent can take a separate period of up to 12 months unpaid parental leave. The combined leave cannot be for more than 24 months. Any concurrent leave, flexible unpaid parental leave or keeping in touch days taken are deducted from this overall entitlement.

If an employee who is pregnant takes unpaid parental leave first, it has to start:

  • when the child is born, or
  • up to 6 weeks before the expected birth (or earlier if their employer agrees).

When the employee who isn't pregnant takes unpaid parental leave first, it needs to start on the birth or placement of the child.

If the leave is for an adoption, one parent needs to start their leave period on the date of placement of the child.

Unpaid parental leave usually has to be taken in a single continuous period. This means the other parent may need to start their unpaid parental leave the next working day after the first parent's leave ends. There are some exception to this, including for flexible unpaid parental leave.

Flexible parental leave

Flexible parental leave provisions only apply to a child who is born, or whose placement happens, on or after 27 November 2020.

One parent taking parental leave

An employee can take up to 30 days of their 12 month unpaid 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 1 day or longer
  • separate periods of 1 day or longer each.

Flexible unpaid parental leave can be taken within the first 24 months of the birth or placement of an adopted child. However, the employee’s entitlement to unpaid parental leave, except for flexible unpaid parental leave, will end on the first day that the employee takes flexible unpaid parental leave. This means that if an employee is planning on taking a continuous period of unpaid parental leave, they should do so before they take any flexible unpaid parental leave.

An employee can take flexible unpaid parental leave after taking 1 or more periods of continuous unpaid parental leave. The total of both periods can’t be longer than 12 months.

One parent taking flexible leave & one parent taking continuous parental leave

An employee may be able to take flexible unpaid parental leave on the same day as the other parent is on unpaid parental leave. The 2 employees can only take a total of up to 8 weeks of unpaid parental leave at the same time.

Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.71, 72 and 72A external-icon.png

Need help resolving workplace issues about pregnancy, parental leave and returning to work?

For employees:

If you’ve lost your job, contact the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) first if you think you were sacked because of:

  • discrimination
  • a reason that is harsh, unjust or unreasonable
  • another protected right.

You have 21 days from the day you were sacked to lodge an application with the Commission. Check the information at the Commission website to find out if you can apply for:

For employees and employers:

  • Find information, downloadable guides and toolkits on pregnancy, parental leave and parents in the workplace on the Supporting working parents external-icon.png website. 
  • Learn about discrimination and bullying and harassment and what can be done to stop it.
  • If you think a mistake has been made about pay, parental leave or returning to work, see our Fixing a workplace problem section for practical advice on:
    • figuring out if a mistake has been made
    • talking to your employer or employee about fixing it
    • getting help from us if you still can’t resolve it.

Want to save this information for later?

If you might need to read this information again, save it for later so you can access it quickly and easily.

You might also be interested in

Page reference No: 1956