Working mums (and dads) – what are my rights?

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Returning to work after a period of parental leave can be daunting. Under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act new mums and dads are entitled to a range of leave entitlements, including up to 52 weeks’ parental leave. 

Following are answers to common questions from new parents (usually women) looking to return to work after having a baby.

Can I return to work on a part-time rather than full-time basis?

An employee on parental leave is only entitled to return to the same job they had before they went on parental leave. There is an option for “keeping in touch” days if the parties agree.  If a full-time employee wants to return to work on a part-time basis this can only happen if:

  • the employer agrees through a process of negotiation, or
  • the employer approves an employee’s request under the Employment Relations Act for a flexible working arrangement.

Am I entitled to flexible working arrangements?

Under the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA) an employee can request a variation of their working arrangements. A variation can be made to hours of work, days of work, and/or an employee’s place of work. A variation can be permanent or temporary.

There are some strict requirements about both the request, and the response from the employer.  However the parties do also have to deal with each other in good faith.  An employer can only legitimately refuse a request for a flexible working arrangement on specific grounds listed in the ERA.

What are the rules around breastfeeding breaks and facilities?

Employers must provide, so far as reasonably practicable:

  • appropriate breastfeeding facilities in the workplace for an employee who wishes to breastfeed in the workplace, and
  • appropriate breaks for an employee who is breastfeeding and wishes to breastfeed during a work period.

Breastfeeding breaks are unpaid unless agreed otherwise.

The breaks are additional to ordinary rest and meal breaks but can be taken at the same time (in which case the break would be paid as a rest or meal break).

For more information on the rights and obligations arising from parental leave contact one of our employment law specialists.

This article was first published in July 2011 and revised in September 2019.