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Maternity Leave | Understanding Maternity Leave In Australia

Maternity Leave

Maternity leave gives you the right to take time off work if you are having or adopting a child.

You can take maternity or paternity leave when:

  • You give birth
  • Your partner gives birth
  • You adopt a child aged 16 or less

Most awards and enterprise agreements offer maternity leave. This leave is often unpaid, however some awards and agreements also offer paid maternity leave.

You may also be able to access the government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme and other types of leave related to having or adopting a child.

Maternity leave became standard in 1971 after a long union campaign. The union movement also helped to secure maternity leave for casuals in 2001. Our movement continues to campaign to protect and extend the rights of employees who are having or adopting a child.

Unpaid maternity leave

If you are a permanent full-time or part-time employee, you are entitled to 12 months of unpaid parental leave. If you need more leave than this, you can ask your employer to grant you up to another 12 months.

To take parental leave you must:

  • Have been working for your employer for at least 12 months
  • Be the primary care-giver

This applies to casual employees as well as full-timers and part-timers.

You are entitled to 12 months leave measured from the expected date of your child’s birth. If you are adopting, these 12 months are counted from when you will begin to start caring for your child.

If you are planning to have another child, you do not need to wait another 12 months before taking leave again. 

If you are planning to adopt a child, you can also take up to two weeks of unpaid pre-adoption leave. This is often needed in order to attend interviews, examinations and other appointments.

You must give your employer at least ten weeks’ notice before taking maternity leave. You must give notice in writing and indicate how much leave you intend to take including start and end dates. You should be able to adjust the date you return to work later on however.

It is illegal for your employer to dismiss you or discriminate against you for taking maternity leave. If you feel that you are being treated unfairly, your union will be able to help.

If you are a casual employee, you also have the right to take unpaid maternity leave so long as:

  • You have been working for the same employer on a regular basis for at least 12 months
  • You would have continued to work for your employer if you had not adopted or had a child

Paid parental leave

The Federal Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme provides up to 18 weeks of paid leave if you are having or adopting a child. If you are eligible for this payment, you will be paid the minimum wage while you are on the scheme, not your usual salary.

To be eligible you must:

  • Be the primary carer of a newborn or newly adopted child
  • Have earned less than $151,350 in the last financial year
  • Not be intending to do any paid work while you are receiving the Paid Parental Leave payment
  • Be able to meet the criteria of a number of income, employment and residency tests

To find out whether you are eligible, visit the Services Australia website.

If you are eligible for the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, you still have the right to take up to 12 months of unpaid leave from your work. There is nothing to stop you accessing both at the same time.

Many enterprise bargaining agreements also provide paid parental leave in addition to the Federal Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme.

Special Maternity Leave

If you experience an unexpected complication with your pregnancy or get a pregnancy-related illness, you can access Special Maternity Leave.

You must be within 28 weeks of your expected birth date to access Special Maternity Leave. This leave is unpaid, but you can take as much as you need until you are ready to return to work.

Taking special maternity leave does not affect how much maternity leave you can take – it is a separate type of leave.

Working while pregnant and safe jobs

If it is not safe for you to do your job while you are pregnant then you have the right to move to a job that is safe.

If you move to a safe job you are entitled to the same rate of pay, hours and other entitlements that you had at your old job.

This applies to full-time, part-time and casual employees. If you are unsure whether or not your job is safe to do while you are pregnant, please contact your union for assistance.

No Safe Job Leave

If it is not safe for you to do your job while you are pregnant then you have the right to move to a job that is safe.

If there is no safe job available, you can take No Safe Job Leave.

If you are a full-time or part-time employee entitled to unpaid maternity leave, then No Safe Job Leave is paid at your base rate of pay for your ordinary hours of work. This excludes bonuses and other entitlements you would normally receive.

If you are a casual employee entitled to unpaid maternity leave, then No Safe Job Leave is paid at your base rate for the average number of hours you usually work. This excludes penalty rates and other entitlements you would normally receive.

If you are not entitled to unpaid maternity leave, then you will need to take No Safe Job Leave without pay.

No matter what kind of No Safe Job Leave you take, you can take as much as you need until it is safe for you to return to your normal job or you commence maternity leave.

Funding for this factsheet was provided by:

  • the Victorian Government as part of the uTech project; and
  • the Fair Work Ombudsman. 

Please note that the information given here is general information only and is not legal advice. For further assistance, it is recommended you speak to your union.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is entitled to parental leave?

Under the National Employment Standards you are entitled to unpaid parental leave if you have completed 12 months of service with your employer before the expected birth or placement of your child.

If you are a casual employee you will need to show that you have a reasonable expectation of continuing employment on a regular and systematic basis to be eligible.

You may also be entitled to paid leave.

Can casual employees get maternity leave?

All employees, including casual employees, are entitled to unpaid parental leave. This is 12 months plus an additional 12 if you request it.

Can I go part-time after maternity leave?

When you come back from maternity leave, you have the right to return to the same role as you previously had.

You also have the right to discuss flexible work arrangements with your employer. This could include part-time work or remote work. These two rights are protected under the Fair Work Act 2009.

If you decide that you want to make a request for part-time, flexible or remote work, you will need to submit a written request to your employer.

In your request, clearly detail how many hours per week you’d like to work, and other arrangements such as days, shifts and locations. The best circumstance is a work agreement that meets the needs of yourself, your employer and your new family.

Can you work while on maternity leave?

This depends on whether you’re receiving payments from the Parental Leave Pay scheme.

If so, one of the requirements of this scheme is that you are on leave from your job. This means that if you return to work, your payments will stop.

After the first two weeks of Parental Leave Pay, you can organise 10 “Keep in Touch” days with your workplace.

These days allow for you to occasionally return to work, stay in contact with colleagues and maintain your position in the business.

These 10 days don’t need to be consecutive and you can choose to take them whenever suits you and your employer.

If you’re on unpaid maternity leave, you are also entitled to 10 Keep in Touch days.  Your employer must pay you your standard wage in addition to your Parental Leave Pay.

Can you earn money while on maternity leave?

You can earn money while on maternity leave with your 10 Keep in Touch days.

These are allocated days where you can return to work whilst still on maternity leave. You’ll be paid by your employer, but these payments won’t affect your maternity leave.

Simply contact your employer to explore organising a keep in touch schedule and how this transition back into regular paid work could look.

How many maternity leaves can you take?

You have the right to 12 months of maternity leave and can negotiate a further 12 months with your employer if you require it.

This period will be classified as one maternity leave. 1 maternity leave is allowed per pregnancy.

Can you be demoted while on maternity leave?

No, you cannot be fired or demoted while on maternity leave. You are entitled to the same role as you had prior to your maternity leave. If an employer were to do so, this would be grounds for unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination.

Can you take annual leave during maternity leave?

Yes, you can take paid leave, including annual leave, at the same time as unpaid parental leave. Simply contact your employer and follow the standard process to request leave.

Do I accrue holiday leave while on maternity leave?

You continue to accrue annual leave during maternity leave. It is up to you to decide when to take annual leave. This is an arrangement you can make with your employer following standard leave processes.

How early can you take maternity leave in Australia?

If you are pregnant, you can start your maternity leave up to 6 weeks before your expected due date. If you would prefer to begin your leave earlier, you can discuss this with your employer.

If you are not personally giving birth (in the case of a partner or an adoption) then your leave period will begin on the date of birth or placement of the child.

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