Extending parental leave

An employee on unpaid parental leave can apply to extend their leave. The amount of time they can extend their leave by depends on the length of 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 to a total of 12 months.

To extend their leave, an employee has to give at least 4 weeks’ written notice before the end date of their original leave period. The notice has to include the new leave end date.

Any further requests for an extension within the first 12 months need to be agreed between the employer and employee.

Extending leave beyond the first 12 months

An employee who has taken 12 months of unpaid parental leave can apply to extend their leave up to a further 12 months. The total period with the extension can’t be more than 24 months from the date of birth or placement of the child.

If the employee is in a couple, both parents can take up to 12 months unpaid parental leave. Both parents can also apply to extend their parental leave by up to a further 12 months.

The employee needs to apply:

  • in writing
  • at least 4 weeks before their first 12 months of leave ends.

Employees can use our free template letters to apply to extend parental leave on our Templates page.

Employers responding to a request

There are rules employers need to follow about responding to requests to extend parental leave beyond the first 12-month period.

Employers need to respond to the employee in writing within 21 days of receiving the request. The response can:

  • agree to the request
  • agree to a varied extended leave period following a discussion with the employee, or
  • refuse the request.

Refusing requests for extended leave

An employer can only refuse a request if:

  • they’ve discussed and genuinely tried to reach an agreement with the employee about an extension, but haven’t been able to
  • they’ve considered the consequences of refusing the extension for the employee
  • the refusal is on reasonable business grounds.

The employer’s written response has to include all of the following:

  • details of their reasons for refusing the request (including the grounds for refusing the request and how they apply)
  • an alternative extension period the employer would agree to or that there is no extension period the employer is willing to agree to
  • details of the dispute resolution and arbitration process with the Fair Work Commission (the Commission).

Reasonable business grounds

Reasonable business grounds for refusing a request to extend unpaid parental leave can include:

  • the requested extension would be too costly for the employer
  • other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request
  • it’s impractical to change other employees’ working arrangements or hire new employees to accommodate the request
  • the extension would result in a significant loss of productivity or have a significant negative impact on customer service.

The size and scale of the business are relevant to whether an employer has reasonable business grounds to refuse a request.

Example: Employer and employee negotiate new return date

Deborah is on 12 months of unpaid parental leave and she’s due to return to work in 2 months.

During her leave, Deborah decides she wants to spend more time with her baby and not return to work as originally planned. She writes to her employer, Bill, 4 weeks before her leave ends, to say she wants to extend her parental leave by another 12 months.

Bill reviews her request and calls Deborah the next week to discuss her request. He says he can’t accommodate the 12-month extension as it would be too costly for him and altering other employees’ working arrangements isn’t possible.

Deborah and Bill agree to a 6-month extension instead.

Bill responds to Deborah’s request by putting the agreed return date in writing. He sends it to Deborah within 21 days of her making the request.

Lodging a dispute about an extended leave request

Employers and employees need to try to resolve a dispute by having discussions at the workplace level first.

Disputes can be referred to the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) if:

  • the employer refuses an employee’s request or doesn’t provide a written response to a request within 21 days
  • the employee and employer have been unsuccessful in trying to resolve the dispute at the workplace level.

Learn more about lodging a dispute and the process at Fair Work Commission – Flexible work and unpaid parental leave requests.

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 at Parental leave for stillbirth, premature birth or infant death.

Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.75, 76, 78 and 78A.

When workplace problems arise

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.

Sometimes other issues arise around unpaid parental leave, such as bullying or workplace discrimination. Access information below, including on how to take action:

Find information, downloadable guides and toolkits on pregnancy, parental leave and parents in the workplace on the Supporting working parents website.

Tools and resources

Related information