Paid parental leave in New Zealand

by The FindLaw Team

Women who are entitled to maternity leave may be eligible for paid parental leave. In New Zealand, parental leave is paid for by the government. There is no requirement for employers to pay statutory maternity or parental leave.

Some employers choose to provide paid parental leave as an employment benefit, for example six weeks’ pay so long as the employee returns to work. Where an employer chooses to pay an employee during her maternity leave, she is still able to claim government-funded paid parental leave (so long as she meets the eligibility criteria). This means that an employee whose employment agreement provides for full pay during maternity leave may earn more during maternity leave than she does while working (unless the agreement provides that the employer will top up the government’s payments to full pay).

Who is entitled to paid parental leave?

In order to be eligible for paid parental leave, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least an average of 10 hours a week, including at least 1 hour per week or 40 hours per month, for at least 6 months before the expected date of birth/adoption.
They must be:

  1. A female employee taking maternity leave;
  2. Taking parental leave for adopting a child;
  3. Having all or part of an entitlement to a parental leave payment transferred to them; or
  4. Succeeding all or part of an entitlement to a parental leave payment.

In order to be entitled to paid parental leave, the employee must give her employer notice of her intention to take parental leave in accordance with the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987, ie at least 3 months’ written notice (before the expected delivery or adoption date).

Self-employed people are also eligible for paid parental leave if they have been self-employed for at least an average of 10 hours a week for either at least 6 months before the expected delivery date of their baby (or date of assuming care of the child they are adopting).

How much will I get?

Payment is available for up to 14 weeks of parental leave. The payment is 100% of the employee’s weekly wage, up to a maximum. The maximum is subject to change, usually on 1 July each year. From 1 July 2012, the maximum is $475.16 per week before. The current maximum is given on the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment’s (MBIE) website

Who gets parental leave payments?

The primary eligibility for paid parental leave lies with the birth mother. If her partner is also eligible, then she may transfer part or all of her entitlement to her partner. Where a child under the age of 5 years is adopted, either partner may claim the paid leave, so long as they are both entitled.

What must employers do?

Employers are obliged to alert the employee to the existence of the paid parental leave scheme. Once the employer has approved parental leave, the employee and employer must complete an application form for paid parental leave.

Copies of the application form, and detailed information relating to paid parental leave, are available from the MBIE’s website

When do payments cease?

Paid parental leave is normally for a full 14 weeks. However, payments will cease before 14 weeks if the employee:

  1. Returns to work (see the case below);
  2. Resigns from their employment;
  3. Is on a fixed-term agreement that expires during the period;
  4. orTransfers their entitlement to their partner.

In Oliver v Department of Labour ERA Wellington WA5/09, 15 January 2009, Oliver returned to work from paid parental leave for one day before her baby was born, as a personal favour because her employer was short staffed. She was subsequently informed by the Department of Labour that her parental leave had expired when she went back to work for a day.

The Employment Relations Authority reversed the Department’s decision, but only because Oliver had called the IRD to inform them that she was going to return to work for one day, and the IRD did not tell her that her entitlements would end if she did.

The Authority noted that in normal circumstances, it was appropriate to conclude that a person who returned to work even for one day had “returned to work” for the purposes of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987.

The Authority also said “It is clear... that a return to work need not be a return to paid work, because the State does not want to be paying mothers to look after infants when they are working at the same time, whether on a paid or unpaid basis...

“In normal circumstances it is appropriate to conclude that a person who returns to work, even for one day, has returned to work for the purposes of the legislation”.

Employers should therefore not allow employees to return to work to help out in any capacity during the course of their parental leave payments, otherwise the employee may lose their entitlement to paid parental leave.

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