Knowing your rights and entitlements at work is always important, and being aware of your pregnancy sick leave and parental leave is especially so. We are so lucky in New Zealand that there are strict laws employers must follow, including specific pregnancy sick leave and parental/maternity leave, so educate yourself well in advance.
While most employers are supportive of pregnancy – allowing women to take leave when needed, and providing flexible maternity leave, unfortunately there will always be some whom are not so encouraging. Without knowing your rights, you mightn’t realise you are being treated unfairly in the work place whilst pregnant – so it’s crucial to understand pregnancy sick leave and parental leave.
Pregnancy Sick Leave
While there is no special rights in law as ‘pregnancy sick leave’, pregnant women are still provided for by statutory sick pay entitlements under the Holidays Act 2003. While pregnancy is natural, and not an injury or illness, employees who feel unwell during their pregnancy receive the same rights and sick leave entitlements as other employees would for any injury or illness. It does not matter whether the illness is in relation to pregnancy such as morning sickness or pre-eclampsia, it can be enough that you feel exhausted and need to go home early to rest.
It is important, though, to be aware that there may be grounds for termination of employment if there is a sickness that is causing an employee’s work responsibilities and performance to suffer – keeping in mind there is a process that has to be followed in order for an employer to do this. However, when an employee is pregnant, an employer cannot jeopardise their role, pay or work conditions.
Therefore, if any illness is affecting working ability, employers should meet with their pregnant employee, to discuss an interim arrangement. This could include such flexible hours, a more convenient location (such as working from home), different responsibilities or even unpaid leave until the illness declines.
Pregnancy Special Leave
The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 establishes that pregnant women are entitled to 10 days unpaid leave from work for anything pregnancy related, such as appointments and antenatal classes.
To be eligible for pregnancy special leave, employees must have worked a minimum of ten hours each week, for the same employer, for 12 months before the expected date of birth.
In saying this, many employers are reasonable and will allow pregnant employees to take this time off work, even if they do not meet the requirements. However, employers are not strictly bound by the law to allow employees to take special leave if they do not meet the requirements.
Whilst the law states that pregnancy special leave is unpaid, many employers will still pay pregnant employees to attend necessary appointments. Employers do not have to do this, so if they do, it may indicate that they will be more supportive and flexible of your return to work – something not to take for granted.
Paid Parental Leave
If employees have worked at least 10 hours each week, for the same employer, for 12 months before the expected due date of your baby, they are entitled to paid parental leave from the government, which an employer may choose to top up. PPL payments equal your normal pay up to a current maximum of $564.38 a week before tax. You’ll receive the average of your highest 26 of the last 52 weeks of earnings up to the date the child arrives in your care.
Adopting a baby can make employees eligible for parental leave. However, this can be a harder process to prove to employers. It is advised by the Human Rights Commission to get in contact with the Department of Labour, Employment Relations Service.
Parents with babies due on or after 1 July 2018 are eligible for 22 weeks of paid parental leave. Parents with babies due on or after 1 July 2020 are eligible for 26 weeks of paid parental leave.
Unpaid Parental Leave
The law in New Zealand requires employers to allow working mothers (that meet the criteria) to take a maximum 52 weeks of unpaid leave if requested. Employers are also generally obliged to hold their jobs open for the pregnant employee, until they choose to return to work.
It is also part of the law in New Zealand, that women who are not eligible for parental leave and remain working during their pregnancy cannot have their employment terminated. Employers must allow non-eligible employees to take unpaid parental leave.
The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 allows an employee to choose when to begin her unpaid leave:
- Up to 6 weeks before the expected due date
- As directed by their midwife or pregnancy caregiver
- or as agreed with the employer.
It is important to be aware that there are some job positions that an employer cannot keep open (for example, when you have an important and big role in the company). This is uncommon, but if it does arise, contact the Department of Labour, Employment Relations Service for advice.
An employee that qualifies for unpaid parental leave does receive paid leave for the first 12 weeks. However, the employee will no longer qualify for payments if they return to work before the 12 weeks is over. This is taxpayer-funded and therefore an employer does not have to continue paying their employee while they are on leave. What is required by the employer is an application form to confirm that the mother-to-be is employed and affirm the leave arrangements.
Government and Employer Paid Parental Leave
If an employee has a paid parental leave agreement with her employer, she is entitled to payment from both the employer and the Government. It is common in New Zealand for businesses to have their own paid parental leave arrangements with their employees. In this case, employers are bound by law to allow the employee to use the company’s paid parental leave system as well as the Government’s scheme.
If you want to read more about pregnancy sick leave and maternity leave, head over to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission Website. It’s advisable to have a really good understanding of pregnancy sick leave and parental leave well in advance, so that you can plan for the future.