Changes to parental leave

18 July 2018

Angela MacKenzieThe changes signal the Government's desire to match up against other OECD countries by extending the duration of paid parental leave from 18 weeks to an eventual 26 weeks by 2020. New Zealand had one of the lowest paid parental leave periods in the OECD where the average is 48 weeks.

Children born to employees from 1 July 2018 or where an employee is assuming the permanent care of a child under 6 years old from 1 July 2018, primary carer leave increases from 18 weeks to 22 weeks. Parents will also be eligible for 22 weeks of paid leave. This will then extend to 26 weeks for parents with children born from 1 July 2020. This is a significant change to the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987.

While this is the minimum a few major businesses have led the way and provide increased entitlements to their employees such as ANZ Bank who offer 26 weeks paid leave, two years ahead of the legislation change.

The requirements regarding the primary carer leave have not changed, it is just the duration that has been amended. The primary carer of a child is still entitled to one continuous period of leave and up to six weeks of the leave entitlement may be taken before the expected date of birth or adoption. The person must have worked for the same employer for an average of at least ten hours a week during the six months before the baby’s due date or the date on which the carer becomes responsible on a permanent basis for the care of a child aged under six years.

Keeping In Touch Hours

Keeping In Touch “KIT” Hours have also increased from 40 hours to 52 hours and will eventually increase to 64 hours by 2020. KIT hours are additional hours paid to the employee which allows them to work up to 52 hours after baby is 4 weeks old without losing their paid entitlement; and from 1 July 2020, an employee will be able to work up to 64 hours without losing their entitlement. This will help support employee who may be away from their workplace for a longer period to still maintain contact with their employer and keep abreast of any changes, and for the employer to continue to be connected with their employee.

Replacing employees on parental leave

While an employee is on parental leave, employers have some choices as to how to get their work done. They can:

  • Redistribute the work among existing staff (being aware of health and safety implications and not overloading other workers).
  • Hire a contractor.
  • Hire an agency temp.
  • Hire a temporary employee on a fixed-term agreement. The employment agreement must state that they are employed on a temporary basis to replace someone on parental leave, and that the person on leave may return from leave early (in which case the employer may give the employee at least their notice period in the employment agreement that their fixed term employment agreement will end early).

As long as the employee gives the right notice, their job must be kept open for the first four weeks. If they are taking more than four weeks’ parental leave, their job must be kept open unless the job is defined as a key position or there is a redundancy situation. We recommend that employers approach one of our legal team if you consider your employee is in a key position, as this definition is very narrow and has a high threshold for the employer to establish. The same approach should also be made if the employer is contemplating making an employee on parental leave redundant.

Managing Employee’s Returning to Work

  • Help the employee understand their leave rights and obligations under the law and make sure they know about any extra provisions your workplace or the employee’s employment agreements may have.
  • Make sure the employee knows any specific workplace policies supporting flexible working and familiarise yourself with the flexible working provisions in the Employment Relations Act 2000.
  • If a returning employee wants to keep breastfeeding (including expressing milk) at work, you have to make sure that (so far as is reasonable and practicable) there are appropriate facilities in the workplace and breaks for her to do this (the breaks don’t need to be paid unless you agree). Make sure the employee knows any specific workplace policies supporting breastfeeding.
  • Try to be flexible.

The changes to Parental Leave do not require any employers to provide any additional leave. What it may do is provide more certainty for employers, given the likelihood that more parents may take the full 26 weeks if the leave is paid. This may give greater confidence to employers about the length of time they need to backfill the role.

If you want to learn more about Parental Leave, we have our training workshop that will take a practical look at parental leave entitlements and how to manage the process around applying for, taking of and returning to work after a period of parental leave. The upcoming sessions are Invercargill on 9 August and Queenstown on 17 September. Check out our website for more information and to enrol

While this article provides commentary on employment law topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please contact the OSEA Legal Team for legal advice or for any questions specific to your workplace.


Angela MacKenzie | Solicitor


Legal Team


Diana Hudson | Managing Solicitor | 03 456 1804 | 021 816 469 |

David Browne | Solicitor | 03 456 1812 | 021 225 6938 |

Angela MacKenzie | Solicitor | 03 218 7962 | 021 756 809 |

Grant Walker | Advocate | 03 455 5165 |

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