What you need to know about maternity leave

Woman on couch on maternity leave
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Finding out you are pregnant is a fascinating and exciting time. But knowing what your rights are in the workforce and ensuring you receive all the financial entitlements you are due is just as important as planning the nursery and booking the hospital.

Pregnant women are protected from discrimination in the workforce by state and federal laws in Australia. When women apply for a job, their employer should not ask about their plans to have children in the future, as this is considered discriminatory.

When you are in employment, there are a range of financial entitlements you could be eligible for once your baby arrives.

JaneMaree Maher, director of the Centre for Women’s Studies at Melbourne’s Monash University, says while pregnant women’s rights are protected in Australia, they should still get informed about their maternity rights in the workforce.

“Although employers have legal obligations to treat pregnant women and mothers with equality, it is not a bad idea for them to be aware of their rights before their baby arrives.”

Your most basic rights include:

  • Maternity leave: All pregnant women who have completed 12 months continuous service are entitled to 12 months unpaid maternity leave.
  • Paid Parental Leave The scheme entitles eligible parents a maximum of 18 weeks’ paid leave at the rate of the National Minimum Wage (currently $641.05 a week before tax). Alternatively eligible parents can apply for the Baby Bonus.  
  • Workplace rights Under anti-discrimination laws, women returning from maternity leave can expect to take up the same (or similar) position they had prior to going on leave.  

Maternity leave

You must inform your employer in writing at least 10 weeks before the baby's expected birth date. Your employer may also require a doctor's certificate confirming the pregnancy and the due date.

Paid parental leave 

Parental Leave Pay is designed to be a workplace entitlement, which allows a new mother or the initial primary carer) to spend more time away from their workplace to care for their child full-time during the vital months following birth or adoption. 

To be eligible for the government-funded scheme, you must:

  • Be the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child
  • Be an Australian resident
  • Have worked for at least 10 of the 13 months prior to the birth of your baby
  • Have met the Paid Parental Leave work test before the birth or adoption occurs
  • Have received an individual adjusted taxable income of $150,000 or less in the financial year prior to the date of birth, adoption or date of claim, whichever is earlier
  • Are on leave or not working from the time you become the child’s primary carer until the end of your Paid Parental Leave period

Part-time, long-term casual, contractors and self-employed workers may also be eligible. The payment must be paid in full within 52 weeks of your baby’s birth date and you must lodge your claim before your baby is 34 weeks old in order to gain the full 18-week payment. Before you receive your Parental Leave Pay you will need to complete and return the Newborn Child (proof of birth) form or adoption papers to the Family Assistance Office. 

Understanding Baby Bonus

The Baby Bonus is a family assistance payment given by the Federal Government and can be claimed by either parent to help offset the costs of having a baby. It is currently $5,000 and paid in fortnightly instalments.

To be eligible for Baby Bonus, you must:

  • Be the primary carer of a dependent child or the partner of the primary carer
  • Have the care of the child within 26 weeks of the child's birth. In the case of adoption, have the child come into your primary care as part of the adoption process before the child is sixteen years of age
  • Have adjusted taxable income of less than or equal to $75,000 for the period in the six months following the child’s entry into your primary care, and
  • Meet Australian residency requirements for family assistance purposes. 

What you should know:

Parental Leave Pay and Baby Bonus cannot be paid together for the same child. You will need to decide which scheme suits your financial needs best and apply for one or the other. Most eligible families will be better off receiving the Parental Leave Pay but use the Paid Parental Leave Comparison Estimator to work out which option is best for you. 

Paternity leave

Fathers are entitled to apply for leave under the Paid Parental Leave scheme if they are the primary carer. 

3 fresh tips:

  1. Know your rights. Contact your human resources department and enquire what your employer's obligations to you are
  2. Decide if you will apply for the Baby Bonus or the Paid Parental Leave scheme
  3. Fill in any forms you can before your baby arrives. The first few months will be a little hectic!  

Looking for more practical tips to prepare you for your baby's arrival? Woolworths Baby and Toddler Club has advice on everything from shopping for your baby to planning meals for your pregnancy

By Mercedes Maguire, whose year-long maternity leave turned into seven years (and counting) after she discovered she could work from home

The information on this site does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any decision. The information on this site should not replace the expertise of qualified professionals, and if you have any concerns, you should always consult a qualified professional.

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