What to do when you have to start parental leave early

Sometimes babies arrive way ahead of their due date, and the circumstances can be very difficult — even traumatic — for parents. So it’s a good idea to have your handover plan organized by the middle of your pregnancy. If you find yourself having to go on leave early, you’ll be thankful you managed this one proactively.

One of our coworkers suddenly had to change her plans and start parental leave early. She’d 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 the hospital on permanent bed rest. Within the next week, she gave birth to a precious baby via cesarean 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’m not sure anyone would ever be ready for this,” says our coworker.

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

This is so far from the start to parental leave that anyone would choose, and it can be quite traumatic for any new parent thrown into this situation. Because, when it comes to the birth of babies, nature’s generally in charge and you never really know when things are going to happen. If you find yourself having to start parental leave early, you’ll be thankful that you managed this one proactively.

So, for new parents residing in Australia, what would this then mean for your parental leave? We hope that this doesn’t happen to you, but here’s what you need to know in case it does:

Unpaid special maternity leave
If you’re pregnant and not fit for work, you may be eligible for unpaid special maternity leave. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, this can occur because of a pregnancy-related illness, or the pregnancy ends within 28 weeks of the expected date of birth and the infant isn’t stillborn. You must give your employer notice that you’re taking unpaid special maternity leave as soon as possible (which may be after the leave has started), and advise the expected period of leave. 

If you were to find yourself in a similar position to our coworker as described in the example above, if you’re not covered by your normal workplace sick leave entitlements, you can make a request for unpaid special maternity leave for the period of time you spend in the hospital before your baby is born. This period of leave will not count towards your other unpaid parental leave period.

Parental leave start date
If you’re a pregnant parent, your parental leave must either start when your child is born or up to six weeks before the expected birth (or earlier if your employer agrees). This means if you have your baby early due to unforeseen reasons, your parental leave will also start then, 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.

Written by the Circle In team.

Source: Fair Work Ombudsman

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