Why Employers Need to Be Careful When Dealing with Maternity Leave
When it comes to potential litigation, few areas are as troublesome to new business owners as employment law. If you've recently taken on a number of new staff members as part of a business venture, then you may be preparing yourself for any issues as they arise and will need to focus on maternity issues sooner rather than later. If one of your employees breaks the news that she is pregnant, you will need to act accordingly, but what do you need to know about your obligations and exposure?
Under Australian law, an employee is entitled to a year of parental leave on an unpaid basis, so long as they have been with your company (at that point) on a continuous basis for at least one year. In certain circumstances, they can also request that the period be extended after it has elapsed. Typically, this leave will start up to six weeks before the arrival of the child, and she will need to give you full details well in advance, so you can plan accordingly.
In addition, the employee may be eligible to get paid leave, which is based on the national minimum wage and may extend to a total of 18 weeks. This is something that is between the employee and the government directly, however, and this leave has to be taken in one continuous block. It's usually in conjunction with the aforementioned unpaid absence.
You will need to ensure that the employee can return at the end of their statutory leave, in the same position and under the same terms and conditions. You have another obligation to keep them informed about any work-related issues that may have arisen during their absence that could nevertheless affect them going forward.
Sometimes, an employee may request that their working arrangements be modified after the child has arrived, but you don't have to accept the request if you have good reason. You do, nevertheless, need to tell them your reasons for refusal and must exercise a lot of care when you do so. This can be an emotional subject; the employee in question may not like your response, and it's not unheard of for a case of discrimination to be brought forward.
If you run into this type of obstacle or have any other questions relating to maternity leave, make sure that you ask your commercial law attorney for help.