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Get the facts: Returning to work after maternity leave

That blissful time being locked in the baby bubble is coming to an end. It’s time to get your head around returning to work after maternity leave but first, you need to brush up on your workplace rights. These rights are important because times have definitely changed for working women.


I’ve put together a summary to get you started, and I highly recommend checking out the Fairwork Ombudsman’s website. It will give you a great viewpoint of your legal position, which is super important at this stage.


Extension of leave

Sometimes we think returning to work will be easy, even welcomed, but then the time comes and well, you’re not quite ready. It’s those big baby eyes that are hard to leave behind. Don’t freak out because you can get an extension. An employee taking 12 months parental leave can request an extension of a further 12 months leave (up to 24 months total).


You’ll need to request this in writing at least 4 weeks before your initial maternity leave period comes to an end, that’s the only catch. Your employer then has 21 days to respond in writing.


Employers may refuse your request based on reasonable business grounds. This isn’t defined in the National Employment Standards but may include things such as:

  • the effect on the workplace (e.g. the impact on finances, efficiency, productivity, customer service)
  • the inability to recruit a replacement employee

Please note: if you and your partner work for the same employer, you’ll need to refer to Fair Work to check how this applies to you.


Keeping in touch days

The Fair Work Act (FW Act) allows team members, like yourself, to remain connected to their workplaces for up to 10 paid days while on parental leave. This is an awesome idea and one I’d recommend you take advantage of because evidence shows it helps support mental health and confidence levels when returning to work. Keeping in touch will definitely reduce that feeling of exclusion.


Some examples of how you can keep in touch include:

  • Doing training or attending a conference
  • Support for transitioning back to the workplace
  • Training on new systems or processes
  • Staying in touch with your manager regarding changes to the business or your role


Return to work guarantee

You can hear stories of situations going pear-shaped at this point, but put those tales aside and focus on your journey.


There is definitely a return-to-work ‘guarantee’ in place following a period of unpaid parental leave. This includes either returning to your pre-parental leave position or, if that position no longer exists, to an available position that you are suited to.


If you’re offered an available position, obviously you need to be qualified for it and it also needs to be nearest in status and pay to your pre-parental leave position. Kind of like that saying: “same-same-but-different.”


The right to request flexible work arrangements

As a parent, you have a right to request flexible working arrangements. You do need to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months on a full-time or part-time basis. If you’re a long-term casual with a reasonable expectation of ongoing employment, you’re also eligible (employed on a regular and systematic basis for at least 12 months).


Examples of flexible working arrangements include:

  • Changed starting and finishing times
  • Part-time work or job sharing
  • Working more hours over fewer days
  • Working from home


To request flexible work arrangements, you’ll need to formally request this in writing to your employer. State the change sought and the reason for the change.


Your employer will need to respond to your request in writing within 21 days. They need to outline whether the request is approved or refused on reasonable business grounds.


For further information and a helpful template letter to request flexible work arrangements, head to Fair Work – Templates & Guides



If you’re breastfeeding don’t worry, your employer is required to support you. They can do this by providing appropriate breaks for you to breastfeed or express.


Breastfeeding is a protected ground of discrimination. You should never be made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding or not provided with adequate facilities.


Ideally, your employer will ensure there are suitable facilities available. These include a private room for breastfeeding or expressing, a place to store a breast pump and a fridge to store breast milk.


The Australian Breastfeeding Association can provide valuable support and helpful information for you and your employer to ease your transition back to work, so please get in touch to find out more.


Returning to work can sure be scary. Will you even remember how to use a calculator after all those hours spent gazing at your baby? Rest assured, for most of us, returning to work isn’t as big a mountain as it might seem. Before you know it, you’ll be back into the swing of things and juggling the working-mum life like an expert.




Audir | people

Nicci Richman – Owner

Description: Audir is a People Development consultancy that supports workplaces to create environments in which all their people can thrive. Nicci founded Audir to highlight and facilitate the richness and strengths that neuro-diverse individuals bring to the workplace. “I believe everyone deserves to belong, to have a meaningful career and work life, to be valued for their strengths and have the freedom to be who they really are.”

Phone: 0417 373 351

E: nicci@audir.com.au

W: http://www.audir.com.au

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