Extending parental leave

Employees on unpaid parental leave can apply to extend their leave. The amount of time they can extend their leave by will depend on how long they have been on parental leave.

Extending leave in the first 12 months

Employees who planned to take less than 12 months unpaid parental leave can extend their leave up to a total of 12 months.

The employee needs to provide notice of the extension:

  • in writing
  • at least 4 weeks before the end date of their current leave.

The employee needs to include their new leave end date in their notice.

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

Employees who have taken 12 months of unpaid parental leave can apply to extend their leave by 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, each parent can take up to 12 months unpaid parental leave. Each parent can also apply to extend their parental leave by up to a further 12 months.

The employee needs to apply for the extension:

  • 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 from 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.

If the employee and employer can’t agree on an extension, see Disputes about extended leave requests.

Reasonable business grounds

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

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

The employer’s circumstances can be factored in when considering if the employer has reasonable business grounds for refusing a request. For example, the employer’s size and nature of the business.

See What employers should do with a request.

Example: Employer and employee negotiate new return date

Deborah is on 12 months of unpaid parental leave.

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 ask to extend her parental leave by another 3 months.

Bill reviews her request and calls Deborah the next week to discuss her request. He says he can’t accommodate the 3-month extension as the person who has been filling Deborah's role has accepted a new role with another organisation starting in 2 months and:

  • it wouldn't be practical to recruit someone else for the final month
  • Bill runs a small business and there is no capacity to change the working arrangements of other employees to perform the critical function of Deborah's role.

Deborah and Bill agree to a 2-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.

Disputes about extended leave requests

Employers and employees need to try to resolve a dispute by having a discussion first.

Disputes can be referred to the Fair Work Commission if:

  • the employer refuses an employee’s request or doesn’t provide a written response to a request within 21 days, and
  • 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 Disputes about flexible work or unpaid parental leave extensions.

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 restart 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
  • the end of the day in the scenario that the newborn dies.

Find out more at Stillbirth, premature birth or infant death.

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

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