It is commonplace for an employee to fall pregnant again while on maternity leave for their first pregnancy. In this case, an employee may request an extension of their maternity leave, depending on how long the original period granted to them was for.
If an employee is currently taking parental leave that is planned to be less than 12 months, they can extend their leave so that the total period, with the extension, is 12 months. However, the employee must give four weeks’ notice before their leave ends to the employer which is in writing and clearly outlines the new end date.
If an employee is taking 12 months parental leave, they may request to extend their leave for a further 12 months (up to 24 months in total), immediately following the end of the original period. The request must be in writing and given to the employer at least four weeks before the first 12 months of leave ends and outline the new end date.
However, the situation may be different if an employee’s partner has also taken parental leave in which case the employees’ written request must include the amount of unpaid parental leave their partner has taken or is planning to take. An employee and their partner may take a combined maximum of 24 months parental leave, so if the employee is granted a 16 month leave, the employees’ partner may take 8 months leave.
The employer must respond to the request:
– in writing
– within 21 days after the request
– stating whether the request is granted or refused.
The employer can only refuse to extend an employee’s leave on ‘reasonable business grounds’ which is not defined but could be:
– the impact on the workplace’s finance, productivity or customer service
– difficulties managing the workload among existing staff, or
– difficulties in recruiting a replacement employee.
If the request is refused, details of the relevant reasonable business grounds must be provided to the employee in the written response. The employee must also be given a reasonable opportunity to discuss the reasons for the refusal with the employer for the refusal to be effective.
If you believe that your request was refused on unreasonable grounds, or you were dismissed on the grounds of being unlawfully discriminated against due to your pregnancy, you have 21 days to seek legal advice. Alternatively, if you have not been dismissed but still allege there has been a breach of the unlawful discrimination provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (cth) you are able to seek legal action to help deal with the dispute.