Maternity leave in NZ

mum at home with baby

Sorting out maternity leave (sometimes known as parental leave or paternity leave for some dads out there) can be daunting for both parents-to-be and their employers. Remember, you are legally entitled to paid maternity so long as you meet the simple criteria. Knowing exactly where you stand and what steps to take and when to take them, will make you feel comfortable talking to your employers about maternity leave.

Currently in New Zealand, if you’ve been working continuously for a set period of time, you can take paid maternity leave for 16 weeks. You can then take extended maternity leave, without pay, for up to 52 weeks after your baby’s birth. Your job is held for you while you’re away. Often employers will fill your position temporarily while you’re on maternity leave.

This extension from 14 weeks, prior to 1 April 2015, is one of two steps to extend the paid parental leave to 18 weeks by 1 April 2016. The NZ Government also plan to extend eligibility of paid parental leave to caregivers other than parents and to extend parental leave payments to people in less-regular jobs or who recently changed jobs.

For more details, see the release Government to boost parental leave provisions by Minster of Labour, Hon Simon Bridges.

You can also find detailed information about current maternity leave entitlements in NZ in the parental leave section on the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment website.

Key facts about maternity leave/parental leave

  • Currently, Mums-to-be can take maternity leave of 16 continuous weeks; starting up to six weeks before the date your baby is due.
  • If you’re adopting, you can choose which parent applies for paid leave. That parent may then transfer part or all of the entitlement to the other parent if they’re also eligible.
  • If you are planning to take maternity leave, you must notify your employer in writing at least three months before your baby’s due date.
  • You may also take special leave of up to 10 days before your maternity leave starts for reasons connected with pregnancy, such as your antenatal checks.
  • There is no paid leave available specifically for spouses/partners or fathers.
  • Birth dads and adoptive dads can take unpaid paternity leave of either one week (six months eligible service), or two weeks (with 12 months eligible service). Paternity leave can be extended in certain circumstances.
  • If you’ve 12 months eligible service, 52 weeks of unpaid extended leave can be taken, as long as the leave period is begun before your baby turns one-year old.
  • Unpaid leave must be taken continuously. It can be shared between parents if you’re both eligible. You can take your leave together or one after the other.
  • Eligibility for maternity leave is primarily determined through the birth mother. However, if your spouse or partner (including same sex couples) meets the eligibility criteria you can transfer part or all of your leave to them.

Are you eligible for paid maternity leave?

Currently, you’re entitled to 16 weeks of job-protected maternity leave if you meet the following criteria:

You have worked continuously with the same employer for an average of at least 10 hours a week (including at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month) in the six or 12 months immediately before your baby’s expected due date or adoption date.

Maternity leave for the self-employed

For the self-employed to be eligible for parental leave payments, the birth mother or adoptive parent has to prove that they’ve worked an average of at least 10 hours a week over the six or 12 months immediately before baby’s due date or adoption date.

How much will you be paid on maternity leave?

If you meet the six or 12-month eligibility criteria, you’re entitled to paid maternity leave for 16weeks. The pay comes from NZ Inland Revenue, not your employer, so to receive it you must apply first to your employer and then to Inland Revenue for parental leave.

Paid parental leave payments equal your normal pay (before tax) if you’re an employee, or your average weekly earnings if you’re self-employed.

For the most up to date maximum parental leave weekly payment amounts, visit the Inland Revenue website.

Work out how much you’ll be paid on maternity leave

Use the online calculator below to find out how much money you’re entitled to be paid on maternity leave.

Extending your maternity leave

You’re also entitled to up to 52 weeks of job-protected unpaid parental leave, less any maternity leave taken, If you’ve worked continuously with the same employer for 12 months or more.

This is a great option for those women who want to spend the first year of their baby’s life at home, and then return to their old job.

There are several things to consider when thinking about taking (or not taking) an extended maternity leave. Here are a few of the issues that might pop up and affect your decisions.

  • Some women plan to return to their pre-birth job sooner rather than later, only to find that when their baby arrives the desire to be home with their baby is greater than their urge or need to return to work.
  • Other mums who hadn’t planned to go back to their jobs find that they miss work: the company of like-minded workmates, the sense of achievement, and the mental stimulation. For some, it’s as simple as just needing to get out of the house for a while on a regular basis and be around other adults.
  • Some families discover that living on a smaller income is too hard and too stressful and so the mother has to return to paid employment.
  • Unexpected events – such as the family breadwinner loses their job or a major expense comes up, which may mean the at-home mother has to go back to work sooner than planned.

Taking maternity leave for your next child

You can take maternity leave for subsequent children provided you keep meeting the eligibility criteria. However, you won’t be eligible for another period of leave unless your due date or adoption date is at least six months after you’ve returned to your work following a previous period of maternity leave.

Maternity leave in other countries

NZ has good reason to be proud of the maternity leave/paternal leave entitlements. Parents in some other countries aren’t quite as lucky. In Australia, paid parental leave was only introduced in 2011 and provides eligible parents with up to 18 weeks paid leave. In other countries, around three months of paid maternity leave seems to be the average, although in the UK mothers receive up to 18 weeks, and in Spain it’s 16 weeks. While in Papua New Guinea, only 6 weeks unpaid maternity leave is available.

Rules for maternity leave can change

Keep in mind that government policy can change and the criteria for maternity leave are no exception.

To stay up to date as the proposed parental leave changes come into effect from 1st April 2015, visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website and keep an eye on the newspapers and check online for updates on eligibility and payments for maternity leave in NZ.

Last updated June 2015