Employees have a number of entitlements upon returning to work from maternity leave including: 

  • The right to go back to the position they held before taking leave;
  • The ability to make flexible work requests; and
  • To receive support while breastfeeding.

As their employer, you are consequently required to make the necessary adjustments to the workplace to ensure you can meet these entitlements. This article will explain these in more detail below as well as strategies for employers.

Pre-parental Leave Position

An employee is entitled to return to their pre-parental leave position when returning to work. If this position no longer exists, then you must provide another position for which the employee is qualified and where they will enjoy their former status and pay. You should also consider the employee’s requests during this time of transition as the employee may, for example, want to work part-time or in a different role.

Flexible Work Requests

An employee who has worked for a continuous period of 12 months is entitled to make a request for flexible working arrangements once they become a parent or person with responsibility for the care of a child. This entitlement also extends to casual employees if they have a reasonable expectation of continuing employment with the employer on a regular, systematic basis.

Flexible working arrangements usually include:

  • Changing start and finishing times;
  • Reducing their workload;
  • Sharing their job;
  • Working more hours over fewer days;
  • Working more hours to make up for time off;
  • Taking rostered days off on half days;
  • Taking time off work instead of overtime payments;
  • Working closer to home or from home;
  • Reducing travel away from home.

The request for one or more of the above arrangements must be set out in writing and given to you as the employer. It should also outline the changes sought as well as reasons. You must then respond within 21 days after receiving the request. Your response could be an approval or refusal, but you must rely on “reasonable business grounds” if you wish to refuse the request including:

  • Cost;
  • Low capacity;
  • Impracticability;
  • Loss in efficiency or productivity; or
  • Negative impact on customer service.

An employee has the right to appeal to the Fair Work Commission if their request is refused and if they are not satisfied with the reasons you have provided. The Commission can hold a conference between you and your employee to find a solution and to make recommendations. However, the Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman does not have the power to force you to approve a request.

Breastfeeding Support

An employee is also entitled to be supported while breastfeeding in the workplace. As an employer, you may want to consider taking the following steps to ensure you are not discriminating against your employee:

  • Provide a private space to breastfeed, express and store milk;
  • Allow appropriate breaks throughout the work day;
  • Develop a breastfeeding policy as part of your Employee Handbook to set out your support for your employees during this time; and
  • Create a supportive culture of pregnancy and breastfeeding in the workplace.

Strategies

While there are a number of entitlements that you must be aware of as an employer, you may want to consider taking these a step further by:

  • Establishing a formal return to work process;
  • Discussing flexible work arrangements that work for the employee;
  • Creating a positive culture surrounding employees returning to work;
  • Providing a family or parenting room for breastfeeding parents; and
  • Meeting with employees regularly to keep track with how they are going.

The benefits of implementing these strategies may include the following:

  • Helping employees achieve a work-life balance by better managing the demands that come with being a parent;
  • Increasing staff retention;
  • Decreasing absenteeism;
  • Increasing productivity; and
  • Increasing job satisfaction.

***

In the next article of the Supporting Working Parents Series, we discuss parental leave. If you require assistance on the best way to support pregnant employees in your workplace or if you need your Employee Handbook updated, get in touch with our Employment Lawyers by leaving us a message below or calling 1300 544 755.

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