Maternity leave in New Zealand

by The Findlaw Team

In New Zealand, parental leave is split into different types under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987. One type of parental leave is “maternity leave”.

Maternity leave only applies to female employees. If an employee meets the criteria for maternity leave, her employer must allow her to take maternity leave if she becomes pregnant or adopts a child aged under 5 years.

Eligibility criteria for maternity leave

Employees are entitled to take maternity leave if they have been working for their employer for at least 6 months (averaging at least 10 hours per week) by the time of their child’s expected delivery or adoption date.

How long is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is one continuous period of up to 14 weeks. It includes an entitlement to at least 8 weeks’ leave after the baby is born. This means that maternity leave can potentially be longer than 14 weeks if the child is born later than the expected delivery date (EDD) and the women began her leave several weeks before the EDD.

When does maternity leave commence?

Maternity leave begins on:

  • The date of confinement (or in the case of adoption, the date on which the employee assumes care of the child).
  • A date requested by the employee, which must be no more than 6 weeks before the expected date of confinement (or in the case of adoption, the expected date of assumption of care of the child).
  • A date set by the employer where, by reason of her pregnancy, the woman is:
    – unable to perform her work to the safety of herself or others; or
    – incapable of performing her work adequately; and
    – there is no other suitable work available.
  • A date recommended by a medical practitioner.
  • A date agreed between the employee and her employer.

The employer may allow the employee to take more than the 14-week entitlement, or the employee may be entitled to take extended leave because she has worked for the employer for 12 months or more – see below.

Can the employer make an employee take maternity leave early?

If a female employee is unable to perform her work safely or adequately because of her pregnancy, her employer may transfer her temporarily from one job to another. If no other suitable work is available, the employer can direct the employee to begin her maternity leave early, on a date chosen by the employer (this can be more than 6 weeks before the expected date of delivery).

What notice is required?

In order to be entitled to maternity leave, a pregnant employee must give her employer at least 3 months’ written notice before the expected date of delivery. The notice must be accompanied by a medical certificate confirming the pregnancy and expected date of delivery.

If the employee wants to begin her maternity leave early, she must give her employer at least 21 days’ notice in writing.

If the employee does not meet these notice requirements, the employer can still allow her to take maternity leave.

Will I get paid for maternity leave?

Unless paid maternity leave is provided under the employment agreement, there is no requirement under New Zealand law for employers to pay an employee while she is on maternity leave. Government-funded paid parental leave is available for up to 14 weeks (up to a maximum of $475.16 per week before tax, likely to be increased on 1 July 2013).

Will my job be kept open?

Under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987, employers must keep an employee’s job open for the first 4 weeks of maternity leave in all cases. In most cases, the employer must keep the employee’s job open for the duration of the leave (14 weeks in the case of maternity leave and 52 weeks in the case of extended leave).

If the job is a key position in the employer’s organisation, and recruiting a temporary employee is not reasonably practicable, the employer may decide that the job cannot be kept open for more than 4 weeks.

Employees can challenge an employer’s decision to not keep the job open. In such cases, employers must prove that the job in question is a key position. It is, however, rare for an employer to be able to prove this. In practice, very few jobs are key positions to this extent.

Special leave

In addition to 14 weeks’ maternity leave, pregnant employees are entitled to up to 10 days’ unpaid special leave for reasons connected with their pregnancy. This special leave can only be taken before the woman goes on maternity leave.

Special leave applies only where the woman is eligible for maternity leave under the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987.

Extended leave

If a woman on maternity leave has been working for her employer for at least 12 months (averaging at least 10 hours per week) before her child is born or adopted, she is entitled to extended leave of up to a maximum of 52 weeks. This means that, in most cases, her job must be kept open for up to a year while she is on parental leave. This 52-week period includes the 14 weeks of maternity leave.



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