Changes to the rules around extending unpaid parental leave

TAPSFrom 6 June 2023, there will be changes to how employers need to respond to requests by employees to extend their period of unpaid parental leave. 

The changes, made as part of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022, form part of an Australian Government’s commitment to improve job security and put gender equality at the centre of the workplace relations system.

Currently, the Fair Work Act contains minimal guidance on how an employer should respond to a request for an extension of unpaid parental leave and has limited the Commission’s ability to deal with disputes about the reason for refusing a request.

The following new requirements apply to requests for an extension of unpaid parental leave made from 6 June 2023.

When an employee makes a request to extend their unpaid parental leave, the employer can agree to the request, or discuss and agree with the employee to a different extension period.

The employer needs to put this in writing to the employee within 21 days of the request. If an employer refuses a request to extend unpaid parental leave, the employer needs to respond to the request in writing within 21 days.

What’s new?

Employers can only refuse a request if:

  • the employer has discussed and genuinely tried to reach an agreement with the employee about an extension, but not reached an agreement
  • the employer has considered the consequences of refusing the extension
  • the refusal is on ‘reasonable’ business grounds.

The written response needs to:

  • include details of the reasons for refusal, including the employer’s particular business grounds and how those grounds apply to the request
  • state an alternative period of extension the employer would be willing to agree to or that there isn’t any extension they would agree to
  • include the new dispute resolution provisions that the Commission will have.

Note: The Commission will also now have the power to deal with disputes about requests for extending unpaid parental leave, which include arbitration. 

More information can be found in the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations fact sheet:

Changes on extending unpaid parental leave

The Fair Work Ombudsman also provides more details on this new change:

Unpaid parental leave changes – 6 June 2023 Employers should be aware of the new obligations that apply to them when dealing with a request to extend unpaid parental leave, especially where the employer wants to refuse such a request.

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