Extending parental leave
Changes to unpaid parental leave
On 26 November 2020, there were changes to the unpaid parental leave entitlements in the Fair Work Act. The changes include:
- access to 12 months of unpaid parental leave for parents impacted by stillbirth or infant death
- access to flexible unpaid parental leave options.
The information on this page has been updated to reflect these changes.
We’re currently reviewing and updating the downloadable resources available on this page.
An employee on unpaid parental leave can apply to extend their leave. The amount of time they can extend their leave depends on their original leave period.
Any extension needs to be taken straight after the original unpaid parental leave period.
Extending leave in the first 12 months
An employee who planned to take less than 12 months unpaid parental leave can extend their leave. The total period, with the extension, can't be more than 12 months.
If they want to extend their leave, an employee has to give at least 4 weeks’ written notice before their leave ends stating their new end date.
The employer needs to approve the first extension. Any further requests for an extension need to be agreed between the employer and employee.
Extending leave beyond the initial 12 months
An employee who has taken 12 months of unpaid parental leave can apply to extend their leave. The total period, with the extension, can't be more than 24 months.
An employee needs to give written notice if they want to extend their leave. It needs to be given at least 4 weeks before the first 12 months of leave ends and state the new end date.
If the employee's partner is employed, then the request needs to also state the amount of unpaid parental leave their partner has taken or will take.
The employer's response to the request needs to:
- be in writing
- be given to the employee within 21 days after the request
- state whether the request is granted or refused. If the employer refuses the request, they need to include reasons for their refusal in their response.
Pausing leave for premature births and birth-related complications
Employees who experience premature births or other birth-related complications that result in their newborn staying in hospital or being hospitalised immediately after birth can agree with their employers to put their unpaid parental leave on hold.
This means that while their newborn is hospitalised, parents can return to work. The period when they are back at work isn’t deducted from their unpaid parental leave. The employee can resume their unpaid parental leave at the earliest of:
- a time agreed with their employer
- the end of the day when the newborn is discharged from the hospital, or
- if the newborn dies, the end of the day when the newborn dies.
Find out more on our Parental leave for stillbirth, premature birth or infant death page.
Refusing requests to extend parental leave
An employer can only refuse to extend an employee's leave on reasonable business grounds such as:
- the impact on the workplace's finance, productivity or customer service
- difficulties managing the workload among existing staff, or
- difficulties in recruiting a replacement employee.
Employers can't refuse the request unless they have given the employee an opportunity to discuss it with them.
Employers granting or refusing a leave extension request, need to put this in writing. This makes sure that there's a record of the agreement or refusal and that both the employee and employer have the same information. Employers should use the Approval of extension of parental leave template letter (DOC 62.5KB) or the Refusal of extension of parental leave template letter (DOCX 47.5KB).
Effect of partner's leave on extension period
An employee and their partner can take a combined total of 24 months of unpaid parental leave. But if one parent extends their leave it may affect the other parent's leave entitlements.
When giving written notice of the request to extend, an employee has to state:
- their new end date
- the amount of unpaid parental leave their partner has taken or will take.
Example: Employee extending unpaid parental leave and impact on partner's leave
Natalie is a pregnant employee. She decides to take 12 months of unpaid parental leave. Her husband, Peter, also intends to take 12 months of unpaid parental leave. Peter has to start his leave the day after Natalie returns to work from leave.
After the birth, Natalie decides that she wants to spend more time with her baby. She asks her employer for a leave extension. Her employer agrees to a 4 month extension.
Natalie and Peter can take a combined total of 24 months of leave. Because Natalie has taken 16 months of leave, Peter can take 8 months.
Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.75 and 76
Need help resolving workplace issues about pregnancy, parental leave and returning to work?
If you’ve lost your job, contact the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) first if you think you were sacked because of:
- 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
- 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 Help resolving workplace issues 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.
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