What to do when you have to start parental leave early

What to do when you have to start parental leave early

One of my colleagues suddenly had to change her plans and start parental leave early. She had made it to the 30-week mark, was adding the finishing touches to her baby’s nursery and counting down the days to starting parental leave in five weeks’ time. Then, suddenly, at 31 weeks, her waters broke. Before she knew it, she was in hospital on permanent bed rest. Within the next week, she gave birth to a gorgeous little girl via caesarean section. Fortunately, they were both healthy, and after 25 days of special care, finally went home as a family.

‘I never ever imagined that this could happen to me. Everything happened so quickly and I wasn’t ready. I am not sure anyone would ever be ready for this,’ says my colleague.

‘The hardest part was having to sort out my handover with work when all I wanted to do was focus on my new baby girl who was still in hospital. If I had my time again, I would have started my handover much earlier.’

This is so far from the start to parental leave that anyone would choose. No farewell cupcakes or baby gifts from a work send off, no satisfaction of having everything organised, final conversations had and work handed over. Or a final few weeks at home to put your feet up before your new baby arrives. It’s all a bit of shock and can be quite traumatic for any new parent thrown into this situation.

When it comes to the birth of babies, nature is in charge and you never really know when things are going to happen. If you find yourself having to leave the office early, you will be thankful that you managed this one proactively.

So what does this then mean for your parental leave? We hope that this never happens to you, but here is what you need to know in case it does.

Special parental leave
If you are pregnant and not fit for work, you may be eligible for unpaid special parental leave. According to the Fair Work Commission, this can occur because of a pregnancy-related illness, or the pregnancy ends within 28 weeks of the expected date of birth. You must give your employer notice that you are taking unpaid special maternity leave as soon as possible (which may be after the leave has started), and advise the expected period of leave. In the example of my colleague above, if you are not covered by your normal workplace sick leave entitlements, a request for unpaid special parental leave could be requested for the period of time spent in hospital before the baby was born. This period of leave will not count towards your other unpaid parental leave period.

Parental leave start date
Your parental leave always needs to start at the time your child is born. This means that if you have your baby early due to unforeseen reasons, your parental leave will also start then too, even if you had initially planned it to start at a later date.

Parental leave extensions
Because you have started your parental leave earlier than initially intended, you may want to consider extending your unpaid leave past 12 months. According to Fair Work, an employee taking 12 months of parental leave may request an extension of a further 12 months (up to 24 months in total). This request must be in writing and given to your employer at least four weeks before the end of your initial period of parental leave. Your employer must respond in writing within 21 days, stating whether they grant or refuse your request. Another alternative is to use up any annual leave you have accrued or apply for a period of unpaid leave, if your employer allows.

For more information about special parental leave, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Written by the Circle In team.

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