What should you consider when one of your employees returns to work after taking parental leave?
According to Fair Work Australia, employees are entitled to return to the job or position they were in immediately before taking parental leave. If that position no longer exists at the business, the employer must offer the employee a suitable available position for which the employee is qualified. The position also needs to be as close as possible to the salary and status of the employee’s original position.
Employees can also request flexible working arrangements. This could include returning to work on a part-time basis or with different starting and finishing times. Such requests need to be made to the employer in writing.
The employer is required to respond in writing within 21 days of receiving such a request, and can only refuse the request on reasonable business grounds.
Employers have certain obligations when employees are returning to work after taking parental leave. They need to ensure that the employee has not been disadvantaged by taking parental leave.
In some instances, there have been cases where employees returning to work have suffered discrimination after taking maternity leave. Examples include employers refusing to accommodate flexible working arrangements for the employee or general discrimination against an employee based on their new parental status.
According to business and commercial law firm BlandsLaw, employers should ensure they are aware of their employees’ rights. For example, if businesses want to fill the absent employee’s position, they must ensure it is advertised as a temporary position and is made available to the employee on their return to work.
Employers also need to be open to requests for flexible return to work arrangements and should take the time to consider how they might incorporate these into the business. “Consider how business practices could be modified to allow employees to work from home or vary start and finish times,” BlandsLaw advises.
Adapting to change
Employers and employees alike will have to adapt to changes of some kind when returning to work after taking parental leave.
For employers, this might mean managing the financial implications of having an employee take time away from the business. Has the business owner budgeted for this period of parental leave? And what other financial costs are going to be involved? Will it cause disruption to the business?
Employers also need to consider whether they might have to hire someone to replace the employee who has taken parental leave or outsource work to a third party while they will be away from the business to ensure it can continue to run smoothly.
Staying in touch
When employees leave a workplace to take parental leave, they often lose contact with their work and their colleagues. Employers can help staff members taking parental leave to keep in touch with their workplace by maintaining contact and ensuring their employees continue to stay engaged with the workplace and remain up to date with any important changes.
Employers can maintain contact with staff members who have taken parental leave by including them in email communication, inviting them to social work functions and helping them to feel part of the team even if they might be physically detached from the workplace environment.
To find out more about return to work options after taking parental leave or to download a Best Practice Guide, visit the website of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express. The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice and does not take into account your circumstances or those of your business. You should speak to a lawyer if you need legal advice.
As a former Fairfax Media reporter, Sharon has written across a variety of newspapers including Point Cook Weekly, Melbourne Weekly Magazine, City Weekly and the Melbourne Times. Sharon’s work has also appeared in a number of other publications including The Age, Herald Sun, Bride, Geelong Advertiser, Geelong + Surf Coast Living, Onya Magazine and Desktop magazine. She has also worked in the UK on a variety of journalism and editing projects.