Covering parental leave and employees returning to work

You must keep an employee’s job open for them while they’re on parental leave, unless it’s a key position in your business, or the role becomes redundant.

What you must do

If an employee is taking parental leave for 4 weeks or less, you must keep their job open for them. If they’re taking longer than 4 weeks, you must keep their job open for them unless:

  • it’s a ‘key position’ in your business
  • the role becomes redundant while they are on parental leave.

Keeping an employee's job open

If you keep an employee’s job open for them, you have options around how to fill their role while they’re on parental leave. You could:

  • redistribute their work among other existing employees — if you do this, think about the health and safety risks for the employees that pick up extra work, and do not overload them with work
  • hire a contractor or temporary worker
  • hire a temporary employee on a fixed-term agreement. If you do this, their must say that:
    • they’re being employed temporarily to replace someone on parental leave, and the person on leave may return to work early — if this happens, you will need to give them the notice period stated in their employment agreement.

Types of worker


Work-related stress - WorkSafe(external link)

Filling a key position

For a key position, you must be able to prove:

  • the position is crucial to running your business, and
  • it’s not possible to find a short-term replacement for your employee.

If an employee’s role is a key position and they want to take more than 4 weeks of parental leave, you do not have to keep the role open for them.

Instead, you can hire someone else to fill the role and give your employee a 26-week ‘period of preference’ when their parental leave ends. This means that for 26 weeks after their leave ends, if you have a vacancy for a job that’s similar to their previous job, you must offer it to them before anyone else.

If a role is made redundant

You cannot make an employee on parental leave redundant unless:

  • you can show that the redundancy situation came up after you agreed to the parental leave arrangements
  • you had already notified your employee in writing that their job would not be kept open for them
  • you do not have another similar position you could appoint your employee to instead.

If you have an employee who is on parental leave and their job becomes redundant, you will need to follow the standard redundancy process and try to place them into another role.


If you do not have a similar role to offer them, they will need to go into a 26-week 'period of preference' when their parental leave ends. Then, if a similar role comes up, you must offer it to them before anyone else.

Workplace change process

Staying in touch with your employees

You can help employees on parental leave stay up to date with key events at work, by agreeing to paid 'keeping in touch' days, if they want them.

When an employee is on parental leave, you must:

  • inform them of any major changes in the workplace — particularly if those changes will have an impact on their employment
  • pay them for any 'keeping in touch' days they work while they are on parental leave.

‘Keeping in touch’ days

Employees can do up to 64 hours of paid work as ‘keeping in touch’ days during the time they’re on parental leave. However, they cannot accumulate any annual holidays from these hours, and cannot do any work within the first 28 days after the birth of their baby. If they do, they will be considered ‘back at work’ and this could affect any parental leave payments they’re getting.

Keeping in touch days are paid days available to employees to be used for things like:

  • attending team events
  • going to training sessions
  • taking part in any meetings about changes or restructuring that may affect their job.

Extra keeping in touch days for parents with premature babies

Parents with premature babies are entitled to extra ‘keeping in touch’ hours, which do not affect any preterm baby payments they’re getting.

They can work up to 3 hours for every week they get a preterm baby payment for — so if they get payments for 4 weeks, they can work a maximum of 12 hours during their preterm baby period. If they work more than this, they will be treated as having returned to work, and any preterm baby payments they get will be treated as an overpayment.

Parental leave payments

Best practice tips before parental leave starts

Before your employee goes on parental leave, work out a plan for staying in touch with them while they’re off work.

Take your lead from them — they might be happy with a phone call once a month, or a quick email every few weeks. It will give you a chance to see how they’re getting on and let them know what’s happening at work in their absence.

When employees return from parental leave

When an employee comes back to work after parental leave, you must:

  • provide breastfeeding or expressing facilities if required
  • genuinely consider any requests for flexible work arrangements.

It's also good to have a chat with them about their needs, expectations and entitlements before they start back.

Rest and breaks

Flexible work

What your employees must do

When an employee is ready to come back to work after taking parental leave, they must let you know in writing. They need to do this at least 21 days before they’re due back, whether they’re returning on their agreed start date or want to come back to work early.

If an employee wants to come back to work earlier than planned, they must get your approval first, unless:

  • they are no longer the primary carer of the child
  • they have a miscarriage, or
  • their child is stillborn or dies.

You can ask them to provide a medical certificate showing they’re fit to return to work before you agree to an earlier start date.

If you could not keep their original job open for them while they were on parental leave, your employee’s parental leave end date will also mark the first day of their 6 month period of preference.

If your employee has a miscarriage, stillbirth, or their infant dies

It’s important that you make your employee aware that they have options if they have a miscarriage, stillbirth or an infant they are the primary carer of dies.

They can come back to work earlier than planned without your approval, they're entitled to use their full entitlement to parental leave if they prefer, and they can use their bereavement leave entitlement whenever they choose.

Managing bereavement leave

Your employee may appreciate an opportunity to create a return-to-work plan following a miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of a child. They may want to talk to you about flexible working options or a phased return to work.

Confirm with your employee whether they want to keep their situation private or are comfortable with colleagues being aware of bereavement.

Breastfeeding at work

If an employee is breastfeeding, you must:

  • provide a quiet, private place for them to either breastfeed or express milk
  • give them extra breaks to do so – unless you and your employee agree they will breastfeed or express during other break times
  • let them know whether these breaks are paid or unpaid — they’re generally unpaid, but you can make this a paid break if you prefer. If so, note it in your workplace policies or employment agreements.

Sometimes your operating environment or resources mean it is not reasonable or practical to provide breastfeeding facilities. If this is the case, talk about it with your employee and try to agree on a solution.

Rest and breaks

Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding [PDF, 271 KB]

Breastfeeding in the Workplace – A Guide for Employers [PDF, 370 KB]

Flexible work requests

Your employee may ask about making changes to their usual work arrangements when they return to work. For example, they may want to look at changing their hours of work, or the days they work. They may want to work from home, or from a different office or building.

If an employee requests flexible working arrangements, you must consider the request in good faith and reply to them in writing within 1 month. You can only refuse their request for certain business reasons.

Make sure they know about any workplace policies you have about flexible working and familiarise yourself with the flexible working provisions in the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Considering flexible working requests

Employment Relations Act 2000 - New Zealand Legislation(external link)

If an employee chooses not to come back to work

When an employee decides not to return to work after parental leave, they must let you know in writing. They’ll need to do this at least 21 days in advance unless they have a longer notice period as part of their employment agreement.

If they resign rather than come back to work, their last day of employment will be the day they left to go on parental leave. Any keeping in touch days they may have worked are not counted as part of their employment. That means any payment they received for keeping in touch days should not be included in the calculation of 8% gross earnings for annual holidays in their final pay.

Final pay

Annual holiday entitlements

Make sure your employee understands their holiday entitlements and balances when they get back to work, including any relevant workplace policies or provisions you have with regards to .

If an employee has unused annual holidays that they were entitled to before going on parental leave, the normal calculation for annual holidays will apply, regardless of when the annual holidays are taken.

Managing annual holidays

However, the rules are different if they become entitled to annual holidays:

  • during parental leave, or
  • in the 12 months following their return from parental leave.

The pay for these annual holidays is calculated at the rate of an employee’s   for the 12 months up to the end of the last pay period before the annual holidays are taken. There is no comparison to your . This can result in their receiving less than they would normally do for their annual holiday pay when they return.

The payment rate for their holidays will increase gradually over the following 12 months, after which time their holidays will again be paid at their full value.

Annual holiday pay

Best practice tips when an employee returns

When an employee returns to work after parental leave, try to be flexible while they get used to being back in the workplace. If you can work with them to ensure they have what they need to do their job, they’ll be more likely to return to work as planned and you’ll benefit from keeping trained employees in the team. Before they start back, talk to them about:

  • flexible working arrangements
  • breastfeeding or expressing milk at work
  • any relevant workplace policies you have in place
  • their and annual holidays entitlements.

Leave and holidays

Best Start - Extra support for employees

Your employee may not know that they can still get financial help from the government after they return to work — even if they got paid parental leave during their time off. Make sure they know about Inland Revenue’s Best Start payments. Best Start can provide extra support if they’re working less hours or paying for childcare.

Working for families — Inland Revenue (external link)

  • Published:
  • Last modified:
  • Written for: Employers
  • Share this page:
  • Print this page: