If you’re a first-time parent – or even if it’s not your first time – taking parental leave can be daunting if you want to maintain an ongoing relationship with your workplace.
With some workers on leave for 12 months or longer, it can be tricky to figure out the best way to keep in the loop with what’s happening at work.
Fortunately, what are known as ‘keeping in touch’ days are a great way to help and can help with a smooth transition when you do return from leave.
Keeping in touch days 101
Keeping in touch days allow employees on paid and unpaid parental leave to return to work for a few days without losing their entitlements.
Keeping in touch days exist to help employees caring for a new baby or adopted child stay updated with the workplace and their colleagues, refresh their skills and take the pressure off transitioning back to work.
Under the Fair Work Act and the Paid Parental Leave Act, an employee on paid or unpaid parental leave can access up to 10 paid keeping in touch days without affecting their paid or unpaid parental leave entitlements.
However, it’s important to note that there are rules surrounding keeping in touch days (including when they can be taken and what kind of work can be performed) to ensure employees are protected and not taken advantage of – especially when they’re experiencing one of life’s biggest (and often most stressful) milestones.
How to use keeping in touch days
Employees on paid or unpaid parental leave can access 10 paid keeping in touch days with the option for an additional 10 if they choose to extend their parental leave beyond 52 weeks.
Both an employer and the employee have to agree to the keeping in touch days. An employee does not have to use keeping in touch days if they don’t want to.
If they choose to use them, an employee can only start their keeping in touch days at least 42 days after the birth of a child or adoption. If requested by the employee and agreed upon with their employer, an employee can bring the start date forward to at least 14 days after the birth or adoption.
As an employee, there are a variety of ways you can use your keeping in touch days, whether it’s working for a couple of hours, a whole day, a few days or all 10 days in a row, the choice is yours.
Regardless of how you use them, as long as the work performed meets the guidelines (below), it won’t affect your parental leave entitlements.
Employees don’t need to inform Services Australia if they choose to access their keeping in touch days, however, it’s recommended to get the agreement in writing (and provide a copy to the organisation’s human resources department) to ensure the employer doesn’t notify Services Australia that you’ve returned to work (in which case, your paid parental leave entitlements would cease).
Accepted work activities
Working while on paid parental leave is not allowed under Services Australia guidelines. Any activities performed outside of the keeping in touch days guidelines can affect your parental leave entitlements (for example, the cessation of paid parental leave entitlements). Work performed on keeping in touch days needs to have the purpose of enabling an employee to stay connected with their employment in order to help them transition back to work after their parental leave is over.
Work on a keeping in touch day may include:
- Participating in a planning day or other planning discussions
- Receiving on-the-job training or refreshing their skills
- Attending a conference
- Learning new or updated processes or procedures
- Performing work to become familiar with the workplace or their role before returning to work
An employee will be considered to have returned to work if they:
- Resume regular work activities, other than keeping in touch days
- Perform work that is not to keep in touch, or fill in for an absent employee
- Access more than 10 keeping in touch days before the end of the parental leave period
- Access a keeping in touch day within the first two weeks following the birth of a child or adoption
Employees on unpaid parental leave are allowed to participate in unpaid workplace activities such as a work-related social event or accessing work emails during a casual social visit to the workplace.
However, it’s important to ensure as an employee you aren’t taken advantage of during your keeping in touch days. Your employer may request regular informal catch-ups which are acceptable but be wary of any expectations that may come out of these such as requests for further meetings, queries or anything else that blurs the boundaries.
When in doubt, you can always contact your union.
Payment for keeping in touch days
An employee gets their normal wage and accumulates leave entitlements for each keeping in touch day or part day. One hour or more of paid work activity counts as one day and counts towards the 10-day limit.
For example, if an employee works for four hours during a keeping in touch day, the employer must pay them four hours’ worth of their hourly wage. The same goes for full days.
Under the National Employment Standards (NES) a keeping in touch day does not affect an employee’s entitlement to unpaid parental leave.
And of course, keeping in touch days are just one of many ways to ease the transition back into the workplace after parental leave.
Working parents shoulder a lot of stress – including the exorbitant cost of childcare in Australia. We have one of the most expensive childhood caring and education systems in the developed world.
Free childcare is crucial to support women who want to work more hours and is key to a fair education system for working families.
P.S. If you have any questions about keeping in touch days or need more info, the Australian Unions Support Centre provides free and confidential support. Get in touch here.