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The beginner’s guide to parental leave, part one: unpaid parental leave

Your little one is on their way, and everything is going swimmingly in the baby prep department. Then BOOM – suddenly you need to figure out parental leave and my gosh it’s confusing AF. 

But don’t fret – Team Mumli has done the hard yards. We cracked a bottle of (non-alcoholic) wine and read the damn Fair Work and Services Australia websites for you, to put together this beginner’s guide to parental leave. 

Before we jump in, parental leave can broadly be broken down into two parts: Firstly, unpaid parental leave, which is the time off work and is an entitlement for primary carers in Australia. Secondly, paid parental leave, which is taken during the overall leave period and is available to those who meet certain criteria. 

This article covers the unpaid parental leave (aka the overall time off work) aspect of parental leave. A quick disclaimer: the below is by no means an exhaustive guide! We recommend speaking with your employer, Centrelink, or hitting up the Fair Work site to confirm your specific circumstances and eligibility.

Let’s dive in…

Who can get it? 

You can get it if you’ll be the primary carer for a child. So whether you are giving birth or are adopting, or if your partner is giving birth and will not be the primary carer. 

What am I entitled to?

Essentially, you’re entitled to take time off work to look after your little one and have your job to come back to. Specifically:

  • If you’ve been working for your employer continuously for 12 months or more, you can take 12 months unpaid leave.
  • Casual employees are also eligible for 12 months unpaid leave if they’ve been working on a regular basis for their employer for the past 12 months and if they would have continued working for said same employer if not for the birth or adoption of their child.

Another point to note:

  • You can also request up to 12 months additional leave on top of those first 12 months! Do know there are instances in which your employer can refuse to grant this, however.

So wait, what’s my partner entitled to?

This is a major one: if at any point they will be the primary carer for your child, your significant other is entitled to unpaid parental leave too. This is a separate period to you, of up to 12 months. 

But, if you’re both going to take leave, you gotta read the Ts&Cs:

  • You and your partner can’t take leave at the same time.
  • You can’t take more than 24 months of leave in total between you.
  • You and your partner must take your periods of leave in a consecutive timeframe (e.g. you can’t take two months leave, then your partner takes one month, then you take six – it must be in blocks).

There are a whole heap of finer points to this too. So, if you and your partner decide you both want to take leave, scoot on over to the Fair Work website to nut out what you can and can’t do, how to apply, and more.  

Are you bloody confused yet? Us too (though we hope we’re making it slightly less puzzling!). Grab yourself a snack, and let’s keep going. 

When do I need to tell my boss I want to take unpaid parental leave?

According to the Fair Work website, you need to give your boss at least 10 weeks’ written notice. Then, at least four weeks before you start your leave, you need to confirm your intended start and end dates for the leave. If you ask to extend your leave (remember those additional 12 months you’re entitled to ask for?), you also need to give your boss four weeks’ heads up. 

How soon before giving birth do I need to stop working?

As far as we can tell, there’s no set time frame – it’s up to you and how you feel (but…this may be the last time you can watch crappy reality TV completely uninterrupted, so if you decide to take more time, good on you!). 

However, in the last six weeks to birth, your employer can ask you to provide a medical certificate from your doctor stating you’re physically fit to work. 

But wait…there’s more! What if I can’t do my job while pregnant, or I want more flexibility with going back to work, or something unexpected comes up at my child’s birth?! Here are five more things to know about your unpaid parental leave entitlements: 

  • You can ask your employer to be moved to another role in the company if you can’t do your current job because it’s unsafe to do it while pregnant. Or if there’s no role suitable, you’re entitled to something called ‘No safe job leave’ (under which you can receive your base pay rate for the hours you would have worked).
  • You can get two days of additional leave to attend meetings and appointments if you’re adopting a child.
  • Within 24 months of your child’s birth or adoption, you can take 30 days of your unpaid parental leave at a flexible time at the end of your continuous unpaid parental leave period – e.g. you could take 11 months continuous leave, then a day here and thereafter that.
  • You can take ‘Unpaid special maternity leave’ if you can’t work due to illness or other complications during pregnancy.
  • There are also allowances for those that might have a premature birth or experience pregnancy loss – things like still being able to take leave or delaying leave.

This is a very brief overview, so be sure to visit the Fair Work site for more info. 

We thank you for joining us on this journey! We’re going to go scream into a pillow while we work this all out amidst all the other confusing pre-baby prep (like, what do babies wear to sleep?! What’s a TOG? Anyone?!).

But let’s leave on a positive note. To all our mamas – what was your favourite thing about parental leave? 

And be sure to join in for part two, where we chat about paid parental leave…and those heinous Services Australia forms.

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