Tools

Tool 1: Policies to support working parents

Thinking of creating a workplace policy to support working parents?

Policies do not need to be long or complicated. This tool provides guidance on creating a parental leave and breastfeeding policy.

Parental leave:

The main reasons for having a parental leave policy are to:

  • communicate to working parents that you value their contribution. This helps you to retain valuable skills and expertise
  • encourage open and constructive communication with your employees
  • strike the right balance between business needs and family responsibilities
  • explain to working parents their entitlements to leave – both paid and unpaid and relevant notice requirements.  

An effective parental leave policy:

Refers to the legal rights and obligations of employers and employees. You may wish to refer your employees to this toolkit and the Employee Guide (‘Pregnancy, parental leave and return to work: know your rights’) to understand their rights and your obligations under the law.

Outlines any additional benefits you provide to employees. For example, offering certain employees an additional amount of paid parental leave based on their current salary.

Breastfeeding:

You can include a breastfeeding policy as part of your parental leave policy.

The main reasons for having a breastfeeding policy are to:

  • signify to employees that you are committed to providing a workplace environment where women can work and breastfeed/express and
  • encourage communication with employees to identify the best way to accommodate breastfeeding/expressing.

An effective breastfeeding policy sets out:

Whether breastfeeding or expressing breaks during work hours are paid or unpaid.

Details of a site where breastfeeding or expressing can be done (ideally a private, separate room with a chair, table, fridge, sink and cupboard to store breast pumps).

Tool 2: Responding to pregnancy announcements

An employee has just told you they are pregnant. What do you do next?

Respond positively

Offer congratulations and understand that decisions impacting family choices are important and can be emotional. Organise an initial planning meeting within the next month. Do remember to respect any request for confidentiality.

Be open and honest at the initial planning meeting in terms of needs and expectations

Discuss the need to balance individual and organisational requirements from the outset. The more the arrangement is set up as a partnership, the more successful it will be.

Be prepared and informed

Create a check list that covers the key issues.

Issues to consider before the initial planning meeting include: 

  • employment rights and obligations including work health and safety issues;
  • policies relating to parental leave (where appropriate);
  • the employee notice requirements checklist referred to Tool 4 of the toolkit;
  • the employee’s plans and expectations including ‘unknowns’ (such as exact date the employee will start leave and return to work date and whether the employee will want to return part-time or prefer some other working arrangements);
  • options for covering the workload of the employee during their parental leave;
  • how to keep in touch during parental leave, including frequency and type of communication, if the employee wishes;
  • access to equipment such as mobile phones or laptops while on parental leave and
  • access to professional development opportunities while on leave (e.g. training and job opportunities).

Involve the right people

In addition to the employee and the direct manager, make sure any relevant individuals are involved in the initial planning meeting. This could involve Human Resources, any dedicated work health and safety staff or in the case of small businesses and organisations, the owner or general manager.

Tool 3: Work, health and safety hazards and risk management issues

Work health and safety laws require businesses to do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of their workers. This covers new and expectant mothers—including those women who are pregnant, postnatal or breastfeeding.

In practice, the duty requires businesses to identify work health and safety hazards and control the risk of exposure to the hazard, so far as is reasonably practicable.

As a pregnant worker’s needs may change throughout her pregnancy, businesses must continue to assess and manage any new risks so far as is reasonably practicable as they arise.

Additional requirements may also apply to higher-risk work, for example certain jobs in: 

  • aviation
  • diving
  • lead-risk industries
  • underground mines where there is exposure to radiation.

Continuing to work in some roles may be prohibited or inadvisable for new and expectant mothers.

Assessing risks after notification

On receiving notification of pregnancy, businesses must reassess the workplace to identify any foreseeable hazards that could give rise to risk to health or safety and implement controls to ensure the exposure to the risks does not cause harm to new and expectant mothers or to their unborn children.

In many workplaces, conditions or work processes normally considered acceptable may no longer be so during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If the pregnancy is normal and low risk, businesses will still need to consider the health and safety risks at the workplace.

For higher risk work environments with specific hazards, for example lead processing, the businesses may have legal obligations to new and expectant mothers to protect them and their unborn children from harm.

Common work health and safety issues for new and expectant mothers

Lifting and handling (refer the manual tasks code): the centre of gravity for pregnant workers shifts as the pregnancy progresses and they are unable to carry the load close to their body. Muscle function is also impacted by pregnancy, as muscles soften and loosen in preparation for birth. Repeated lifting and carrying loads can affect the pregnant worker carrying their baby to full term.

Prolonged sitting or standing: due to increased blood flow, continuous standing during the working day may lead to dizziness, faintness, and fatigue. It can also contribute to an increased risk of premature childbirth and miscarriage and oedema particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. It is hazardous for pregnant workers to work in confined workspaces, or with workstations which do not adjust to take account of increased abdominal size.

Infectious diseases: exposure to infectious agents, such as hepatitis B, from bodily fluids could be a problem for health care workers, child care workers, cleaners, doctors and people working with animals.

Chemicals: can have a negative impact on the development of a foetus and pregnancy can also result in higher sensitivity to chemicals. Chemicals can be found in all workplaces, whether in cleaning products, bleaches, floor polish, solvents, thinners, and pesticides.

Hazardous Chemicals: in workplaces where hazardous chemicals have been identified as a high risk to the pregnant worker and/or the unborn child, medical clearance may be required for the mother to continue in that work or workplace. Toxic chemicals are commonly used by hairdressers, domestic workers and those working in labs.

Bullying: may be experienced when pregnant, breastfeeding and returning to work after taking parental leave.  

Night and evening work: can be difficult for pregnant workers. It can increase the risk of fatigue and exhaustion which can pose a risk to the mother, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. The risks associated with night work may be even greater if pregnant workers are getting inadequate rest during the day.

Work Hazards

A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm to a person. A ‘reproductive’ hazard can adversely affect the reproductive health of women and men and/or can negatively impact the growth and development of an unborn child.

What are work hazards for new and expectant mothers?

Physical risks

  • Movements and postures
  • Manual handling
  • Shocks and vibrations
  • Noise
  • Radiation (ionising and non-ionising)

Biological and chemical agents

  • Exposure to infectious diseases
  • Hazardous chemicals e.g. mercury; pesticides; lead (there are over 800 chemicals that can affect a pregnancy or unborn child)

Working conditions

  • Facilities (including restrooms)
  • Work-related stress
  • Extremes of cold and heat

Working arrangements

  • Working hours
  • Overtime
  • Flexibility around breaks

Risk Management

Work health and safety authorities publish practical guidance on risk management.

The basic risk management steps are:

  • Identify the workplace hazards that could pose a health or safety risk to new or expectant mothers.
  • Carry out a risk assessment:
    • be based on the initial assessment, and
    • taking into account of any medical advice.
  • Take appropriate action to eliminate or minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Implement measures to control the risks. These measures must be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis throughout the pregnancy. Some hazards can present more of a risk at different stages of the pregnancy increasing the susceptibility to injury.

Risk management steps for new and expectant mothers

STEP 1: Identify hazards in the workplace or work processes, for example:
(1) slippery surfaces
(2) manual handling
(3) potential exposure to biological or  chemical agents

STEP 2: Decide who might be harmed and how, for example:
(1) pregnant worker in later pregnancy, due to poor balance
(2) pregnant worker may have increased risk of postural problems

STEP 3: Decide whether the existing controls are adequate or should be altered, for example:
(1) clean slippages immediately and ensure sensible footwear is worn
(2) ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the pregnant worker has lighter or alternative duties not requiring excessive physical exertion

STEP 4 Review your assessment and revise it if necessary.

Specific workplace hazards

Some hazards may be high risk to new and expectant mothers and/or the unborn child. Businesses should reassess the control measures in addition to managing low risk exposure to general hazards.

Businesses using hazardous chemicals should check the labels and the relevant Chemical Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for any health and safety risks to new and expectant workers. 

Controlling the risks

Common ways of controlling the risks include:

  1. adjusting the working conditions and/or hours of work ----> If this does not remove the risk
  2. providing suitable alternative work ----> If this is not possible
  3. referring to requirements for no safe job leave.

Tool 4: Parental leave checklist for employers

Are you about to sit down with an employee to discuss parental leave?

Use this checklist to make sure you understand the relevant law and actions you should take. Even if an employee is not entitled to unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act this can still be used as a guide to respond to employee requests for leave related to the birth of their baby.

 

Eligibility

Check the employee’s eligibility for unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act and also consider your obligations under anti-discrimination laws.

Notice requirements

Make sure the employee is aware of the formal notice requirements under the Fair Work Act. (Refer the employee to the employee notice requirements checklist in What notice is required for an employee to take, shorten and extend unpaid parental leave? and set out below).

ActionNotice period

When must your employee notify you in writing of their intention to take unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act?

At least 10 weeks before they wish to commence unpaid parental leave (or as soon as practicable). Such notice must specify the intended start and end dates.

When must your employee confirm in writing the start and end dates of their unpaid parental leave or advise you of any changes?

At least 4 weeks before they start unpaid parental leave unless this is not practicable (e.g. the child is born prematurely).

 

When must your pregnant employee provide a medical certificate concerning whether she is fit to continue working?

If the employee continues working in the six weeks before the expected birth of the child, you can request that she provide a medical certificate stating whether she is fit to work and whether it is advisable for her to continue in her
current position

Where the employee is working within six weeks of the expected birth date, the unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act must not start later than the date of birth of the child.

When does parental leave have to start?

The leave may start up to 6 weeks before the expected date of birth (or earlier if agreed).
Where the employee is working within 6 weeks of the expected birth date, the unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act must not start later than the date of birth of the child.

What if your employee wishes to shorten their original period of unpaid leave (e.g. from 12 months to 9 months)?

The original leave period can generally only be shortened by agreement with you.

When must your employee tell you in writing that they are extending their initial period of unpaid parental leave (e.g. from 9 months to 12 months?)

At least 4 weeks before their expected date of return. This is a right under the Fair Work Act and cannot be refused by you.

When must your employee request in writing an extension to their 12 month period of unpaid parental leave? (e.g. from 12 months to 18 months)

At least 4 weeks before the end date of the original leave period.

When must you respond to a request for an extension to the unpaid parental leave period beyond 12 months?

Within 21 days of receiving the request in writing. If you refuse, your response must include reasons for the refusal.

Discuss keeping in touch

Arrange a time to meet with the employee to plan the upcoming leave and to discuss how you will stay in touch. Remember you must get in contact with the employee if there are any significant changes to the business or the employee’s job (e.g. a restructure or a redundancy).

Discuss return to work

At least 4 weeks before the employee’s return to work date, check in with them about their plans to return to work. Consider site inductions, security clearances, computer access, training to update skills, facilities for breastfeeding/expressing breast milk etc.

Same job on return

Provide the employee with their pre-parental leave role on return from parental leave. If that position no longer exists find an available position for which they are qualified and suited and is nearest in status and pay to their pre-parental leave position.

 

Tool 5: Australian Government Paid Parental Leave scheme

Entitlement

Eligibility criteria (as at 1 July 2015)

Parental Leave Pay

To be eligible for Parental Leave Pay, employees need to:

  • be the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child
  • have worked 10 of the 13 months before the birth or adoption of the child and 330 hours in that 10 month period, with no more than an 8 week gap between 2 consecutive working days
  • meet residency requirements from the date the child enters their care until the end of their Paid Parental Leave period
  • have received an individual taxable income of $150,000 or less in the financial year either before the date of birth or adoption, or the date they claim, whichever is earlier, and
  • be on leave or not working from when they become the child’s primary carer until the end of their Paid Parental Leave period.

Dad and Partner Pay   

To be eligible for Dad and Partner Pay, employees need to:

  • meet the residence requirements
  • provide care for a newborn or recently adopted child
  • have an individual adjusted taxable income of $150,000 or less in the financial year either before the date of their claim or the date their Dad and Partner Pay period starts, whichever is earlier
  • have worked 10 of the 13 months before the birth or adoption of the child and 330 hours in that 10 month period, with no more than an 8 week gap between 2 working days, and
  • be on unpaid leave or not working during their Dad and Partner Pay period.

Additionally, the employee needs to be either the:

  • biological father of the child
  • partner of the birth mother
  • adopting parent
  • partner of the adopting parent
  • partner in a surrogacy arrangement, or
  • partner of a parent in a surrogacy arrangement.

Employees need to make their claim for Parental Leave Pay or Dad and Partner Pay directly to the Australian Government Department of Human Services. You will be notified by the Department of Human Services if your employee is eligible for the payments.

If your employee is eligible for Parental Leave Pay, you must make the payments if the employee:

  • has worked for you for at least 12 months before the expected date of birth or adoption;
  • will be your employee during the Paid Parental Leave period;
  • is Australian-based and
  • is expected to receive at least 8 weeks of Parental Leave Pay.

To make the payments you must:

  • register your business with the Australian Government Department of Human Services;
  • pay the employee in their normal pay cycle and
  • deduct PAYG tax, child support (if your employee has a child support liability) and deductions that your employee has authorised and that are principally for their benefit.

You do not need to:

  • provide Parental Leave Pay for independent contractors, former employees or other employees who do not meet the criteria above (they will be paid directly by the Australian Government Department of Human Services)
  • pay Dad and Partner Pay, as these payments will always be paid by the Department of Human Services, or
  • pay superannuation on Parental Leave Pay or Dad and Partner Pay

For more information, visit http://humanservices.gov.au/pplemployers

Other paid parental leave

If your employee is entitled to other paid parental leave (such as leave provided for in their employment contract, enterprise agreement or policy), you should pay that leave in accordance with the terms that apply.

Tool 6: Employer checklist for flexible work requests

Have you received a written request from an employee for flexible work?

Use this tool to consider how to respond.

Eligibility

Check the employee’s eligibility for requesting flexible work under the Fair Work Act. If they are eligible, the request must be responded to in writing within 21 days. If they are not, you should still consider the request and respond as soon as reasonably possible. 

Discussing the request

Meet with the employee to help you consider his or her request.

Consider the request

Consider all requests seriously and take into account all relevant facts and circumstances.  A request under the Fair Work Actcan be refused only on reasonable business grounds.  Employers should also be mindful of their obligations under anti-discrimination laws.

Written response

You are required to give the employee a response within 21 days of the request. Keep a copy of the letter for your own records. If the request is refused, set out your reasons in a written response to the employee. If the request if agreed to, ensure it is documented.

Follow-up

If you agree to a trial period, ensure that you follow up with the employee at the conclusion of the trial and document what is agreed.