What happens while on parental leave and your return

You cannot be dismissed from your job for going on parental leave, and your employer must meet certain obligations around keeping your job open for you.

What you’re entitled to

As long as you give the proper notice, your employer must keep your job open for you, if:

  • you’re taking parental leave for up to 4 weeks, and
  • it’s the first period of parental leave you’re taking for that child.

If you’re taking longer than 4 weeks, your job must be kept open for you unless:

  • it’s defined as a key position, or
  • your role becomes redundant.

If your job is not kept open

You can only lose your job while on parental leave if it is a key position that cannot be temporarily filled, or your employer restructures the business while you are on leave and your role is made redundant.

Restructuring and change

Key position

A job is defined as a key position if:

  • it is critical to the running of the business
  • it is not possible or practical to get someone to cover it on a temporarily (for example, it requires special skills that are uncommon).

Talk to your employer if they define your role as a key position and you disagree.


If your role becomes redundant, your employer must be able to show:

  • that the redundancy situation came up after they agreed to you going on parental leave, and notified you in writing that your job would be kept open for you
  • they don’t have another position like yours they could appoint you to instead.

They must keep you informed about potential changes throughout any restructuring process.


Workplace change process

If you lose your job - period of preference

If your employer hires someone else to do your job because it's a key position, or your role becomes redundant, they must seek to ensure you have a suitable role to return to after your parental leave ends.

If they cannot confirm a new role for you while you’re on parental leave, you will go into a 'period of preference' time when your leave ends. This means that for 26 weeks after your leave ends if your employer has a job that’s very similar to your old one, they must offer it to you before anyone else.

Keeping in touch with work

If you want to stay up to date with what’s happening at work while you’re on parental leave, you can talk to your employer about doing some work from time to time. Any day you work while you're on parental leave is known as a ‘keeping in touch’ day.

If your employer agrees, you can use ‘keeping in touch’ days to do things like: 

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

You can do up to 64 hours of paid work for your employer during the time you’re on parental leave, but not within the first 28 days after the birth of your child unless you have had a preterm baby and are receiving preterm baby payments.

If you work more than 64 hours while you’re on parental leave or do any work within the first 28 days after your child’s birth, you’re considered to be back at work. This means that you will not be able to get any more parental leave payments. Any parental leave payment you receive after you’re considered to be back at work is treated as an overpayment that you will have to repay.

Extra keeping in touch days if you have your baby prematurely

If you have your baby prematurely, you’re entitled to extra ‘keeping in touch’ hours, which do not affect any preterm baby payments you’re getting.

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

If you decide not to go back to work

If you decide not to go back to work at the end of your parental leave, your last day of work is the day you went on parental leave, not when you last did a keeping-in-touch day. This means any payment you get from keeping-in-touch days will not be included when your employer works out your final pay.

If you decide not to return to work after parental leave, you must let your employer know in writing (this can be an email). You’ll need to do this at least 21 days in advance unless you have a longer notice period as part of your employment agreement.

Returning to work after parental leave

After becoming a parent, you will need to decide when and how you want to return to work – and discuss this with your employer. When you go back to work, your employer must:

  • provide, if they can, somewhere that you can breastfeed or express milk, and give you breaks to do this
  • genuinely consider any request for flexible work arrangements.

Rest and breaks

Flexible work


Letting your employer know

If you're on parental leave and still employed, you need to tell your employer in writing at least 21 days in advance, whether you will be:

  • returning to work as planned
  • returning early, or
  • not returning to work after your parental leave ends.

If your employer could not keep your original job open for you while you were on parental leave, you still need to tell them you want to return at least 21 days before you want your leave to end. When your parental leave ends your 6 month period of preference begins.

Before you return to work

Talk to your employer about any support you think you will need and try to be flexible in coming to an arrangement that will suit you both. For example:

  • If you want to work part-time, do flexible hours, or work from home on your return, talk to your employer to see if that’s possible. Make sure you agree everything in writing, like who will pay for work-related costs, such as phone calls, and what equipment they can provide for you.
  • Look at possible options for childcare — such as location, providers, and hours — and book in advance. Make sure your childcare arrangements will fit in with your work requirements.
  • Talk to your employer about facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk at work, if you will need them.
  • Plan for contingencies, such as who will look after your child if they’re sick or cannot attend childcare as planned.

Requesting flexible working arrangements

Breastfeeding at work

If you’re breastfeeding or expressing milk, you can continue to do this once you return to work. Your employer is legally required to give you breastfeeding breaks, and they must provide you with suitable facilities. Breastfeeding breaks are usually unpaid unless your employment agreement says otherwise.

As soon as you know when you will be going back to work, talk to your employer to let them know you want to breastfeed, or express, when you start back. They may need some time to prepare, to make sure you have a clean, private space with access to:

  • a comfy chair or couch
  • somewhere you can wash your hands or clean your expressing equipment
  • a powerpoint — if you’re using an electric pump
  • a fridge or somewhere to keep the milk cool.

Going back to work early

Usually, you can only go back to work — or start your period of preference — early, if your employer agrees to it. If you’re taking primary carer leave for a child you gave birth to, your employer may ask for a medical certificate showing you’re fit to return to work first.

If your employer does agree you can return early, you need to write to them to let them know the date you will be back at work at least 21 days in advance.

You may be able to go back to work early without your employer’s agreement if: 

  • you, or your spouse or partner, are no longer the primary carer for the child
  • you have a miscarriage, or
  • your child is stillborn or dies.

How parental leave affects your annual holiday entitlement

If you have unused that you were entitled to before going on parental leave, the normal calculation for annual holidays will apply, regardless of when the annual holidays are taken. However, the rules are different if you become entitled to annual holidays:

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

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

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

Annual holiday pay

It’s important to discuss your parental leave plans with your employer as early as possible, to be fully aware of your rights and responsibilities, your current annual holidays ‘balance’, the anniversary date for your entitlement, and the effect your parental leave will have on your annual holidays payment.

If you have a problem with parental leave

Ideally, the terms of your parental leave should work well for both you and your employer. If you have a problem with your parental leave, help is available.

You can make a complaint about anything that has a negative impact on your parental leave (previously known as maternity leave) rights, or that will affect your entitlement to parental leave payments.

Parental leave payments

Talk to your employer or manager

If you have a parental leave complaint, you need to raise it as soon as possible with your employer or manager, by whichever is the latest date of: 

  • 26 weeks after the date the issue occurred
  • 26 weeks after:
    • your child’s date of birth, or
    • the date you became the primary caregiver of a child under 6, or
  • 8 weeks after the end of any parental leave you’ve taken.

For example, you could make a complaint if your employer or manager:

  • tells you that you can’t take parental leave
  • will not keep your job open for you while you’re on parental leave without a good reason
  • terminates the employment agreement because you’re either pregnant or becoming the primary caregiver of a child under the age of 6
  • tells you to go on parental leave early or transfer you to another job without any genuine reason.

However, your employer can tell you to go on parental leave early or transfer you to another job because you are unable to do the job safely or adequately due to pregnancy.

Good reason

Resolving issues yourselves

When you raise an issue with them, give them a chance to fix it, or see if you can agree on a solution together. If that does not work, or you do not feel comfortable raising an issue with your employer by yourself, talk to:

  • your representative, if you’re a member of a union
  • an advocate or support person, if you have one, or
  • an employment lawyer (there may be a cost)
  • MBIE's Early Resolution Service.

Early resolution

They can help you raise the issue with your employer or manager and work together to resolve it.

You can ask the Labour Inspectorate to investigate the issue or make a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

Employment Relations Authority(external link)

Resolving issues quickly

If talking to your employer has not been successful, and you are still having issues with your parental leave entitlements, our Labour Standards Officers can help you resolve the issue before it becomes too serious.

Labour inspectorate complaints

Going to mediation

is a more formal option you can take if early resolution does not work. You can ask to attend mediation with your employer at any time if you have an unresolved problem with your parental leave.


Where to get more help

There are a number of places you can go to get free advice and support, such as:

  • MBIE’s Service Centre

Contact us(external link)

  • the Citizen’s Advice Bureau

Citizen’s Advice Bureau(external link)

  • Community Law

Community Law(external link)

  • parent support services such as SmartStart

SmartStart(external link)

  • Diversity Works

Diversity Works(external link)

  • the Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Commission(external link)

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