Temporary changes to parental leave law due to COVID-19

These law changes allow some workers on parental leave to temporarily go back to work without losing their entitlements.

Last updated: 14 May 2020

Temporary changes to parental leave

Temporary changes have been made to New Zealand’s parental leave law to allow some workers to go back to work temporarily during the COVID-19 outbreak without losing their remaining entitlement to parental leave, and its associated payments and protections. That means you could return to work for up to 12 weeks, and then go back on parental leave.

This change applies to you if you are entitled to parental leave and you need to return to work early from parental leave for reasons related to the COVID-19 outbreak, because:

  • your skills, experience or qualification mean that nobody else can fill your role, or
  • there is unusually high demand for workers in your role.

If you are unsure whether you fit these criteria, you can send a message to Inland Revenue through your myIR account to enquire about your situation.

This change allows one temporary return to work for up to 12 weeks.

You will not be considered to be 'on parental leave' in any way while you are temporarily back at work due to COVID-19.

This means that while you are back at work:

  • You will temporarily stop receiving parental leave payments.
  • You will receive Best Start payments.
  • You will not use any of your 'keeping in touch' hours.
  • The weeks you work will not be deducted from the maximum period you can receive parental leave payments.
  • The weeks you work will not be deducted from the maximum period you can be on parental leave, including extended leave.
  • You will temporarily not be able to transfer your parental leave entitlement to your spouse or partner. 

When you stop work again (and notify Inland Revenue), your parental leave will resume as if it was 'paused' on the day you temporarily returned to work. This means: 

  • You will start to receive parental leave payments again (if you are eligible for payments and have entitlement remaining), and will have the same remaining entitlement to payments as you had when you temporarily returned to work.
  • You will stop receiving Best Start payments if you start receiving parental leave payments (Best Start payments will resume when you permanently end your paid parental leave).
  • You can use your keeping in touch hours, and will have the same balance as you had when you temporarily returned to work.
  • You will be able to transfer your parental leave entitlement to your spouse or partner. 

Keeping in touch days 

If you have already returned to work, this change could still apply to you.

This change applies to anyone who went back to work early from parental leave for reasons related to the COVID-19 outbreak since 25 March 2020.

That means that even if you went back to work before this law change was made, or you went back to work not knowing that there would be an option to return to parental leave later, you can contact Inland Revenue and ask about the change being applied to your parental leave.

If you want to temporarily return to work due to COVID-19, or you already have, contact Inland Revenue to discuss your situation.

You still need to have applied for paid parental leave through the usual process before this change can apply to your parental leave.

Apply for paid parental leave – Inland Revenue (external link)

But it’s easy to check your eligibility for a temporary return to work, and to let us know if you are temporarily returning to work – just call 0800 227 773.

If you have already returned to work, you will need to phone 0800 227 773 as soon as possible to tell Inland Revenue that you would like this to be treated as a temporary return to work.

When your temporary return to work ends, you will need to phone 0800 227 773 again to notify Inland Revenue that you are resuming parental leave.

This temporary return to work will affect how some of your entitlements work, but you will not miss out on any of the entitlements you would have otherwise had.

All your parental leave entitlements will be ‘paused’ while you are back at work temporarily. When you finish your temporary return to work, you will have the same remaining entitlement to parental leave payments, Keeping In Touch hours, and the same number of remaining weeks of paid leave and extended leave as you had when you ‘paused’ your parental leave.

Your employer cannot tell you that you have to return to work from parental leave due to COVID-19.

This change to the law allows you to return temporarily to work due to COVID-19 if you and your employer agree. Your employer cannot require you to come back to work early if you want to stay on parental leave. 

Questions and answers

Can I temporarily go back to work due to COVID-19 during my preterm baby payment period?

Yes. You will stop receiving preterm baby payments while you are temporarily back at work. When you resume your parental leave, you can either resume receiving preterm baby payments (if it is before the end of what would have been the 36th week of pregnancy if your baby had not been born preterm), or start receiving parental leave payments (if it is after what would have been the 36th week of pregnancy if the baby had not been born preterm).

I had to go back to work early from parental leave, but it wasn’t because of COVID-19 – can I go back on parental leave now?

No. These temporary changes only apply to people who returned to work as part of New Zealand’s response to COVID-19. However, the criteria is quite broad – for example, if you work in a factory or a supermarket, and returned to work during Alert Level 4 because there were staff shortages, this is considered to be related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

If you are unsure about your eligibility, you can you can send a message through your myIR account to enquire about your situation

Can I transfer my parental leave entitlement to my spouse or partner while I return temporarily to work, and then transfer it back to myself when I am able to resume parental leave?

No. An entitlement to paid parental leave can only be transferred once, and that has not changed. If your partner is available to care for the child while you temporarily return to work, but you want to resume parental leave later, your partner could make use of any annual leave entitlement while you are back at work, or make other arrangements with their employer.

Can my employer tell me I have to come back to work early because of COVID-19?

No. This change to the law allows you to return temporarily to work due to COVID-19 if you and your employer agree. Your employer cannot require you to come back to work early if you want to stay on parental leave.

If I am taking another form of paid leave before my parental leave starts (eg. annual leave), can I temporarily return to work before my parental leave payments start?

Yes. You can 'pause' this leave to return to work (if you meet the eligibility criteria for a temporary return to work) and stay entitled to parental leave payments, rights and protections when you are able to stop work again.

Does this change mean that some people will receive more parental leave payments than they would have?

No. This change doesn’t give anyone more than the maximum parental leave payment entitlements. It just allows some people to interrupt the payment period.

Could I 'pause' and resume my parental leave to benefit from paid parental leave being extended to 26 weeks?

No – the extension to the maximum length of paid parental leave is based on the date your child is born or comes into your care.

If your child is born before 1 July 2020, or you or partner become the primary carer for the child before 1 July 2020, you will be eligible for a maximum of 22 weeks of paid parental leave.

If your child is born on or after 1 July 2020, or you or your partner become the primary carer for the child on or after 1 July 2020, you will be eligible for a maximum of 26 weeks of paid parental leave.

Are self-employed parents and primary carers covered by this change?

Yes. If you are entitled to parental leave and fit the eligibility criteria, you are covered by this change whether you are self-employed or an employee.

Are adoptive parents and whāngai parents covered by this change?

Yes. If you are entitled to parental leave and fit the eligibility criteria, you are covered by this change.

Temporarily returning to work during my parental leave period will mean I finish my parental leave later than I planned – could this have an effect on my next parental leave application?

If you temporarily return to work during parental leave due to COVID-19 and this means that you finish your parental leave later than you would have, this will not affect your next parental leave application.

Usually, you are not eligible for parental leave payments if it is less than six months since the date you received a parental leave payment for your previous child. But this has been changed for people who temporarily return to work due to COVID-19 – for your next parental leave application, you will be entitled to parental leave payments (if you meet the other eligibility criteria) if it is six months or more since the date you would have received your last parental leave payment if you hadn’t temporarily returned to work.

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