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20 October 2020

Returning to work early from parental leave

COVID-19 has resulted in some employees on parental leave wanting to return to work early, be it for financial or other reasons. Employment New Zealand has provided that employees and their employers must act in good faith towards each other to reach an arrangement that benefits them both. The employer must be clear whether this is an occasional, temporary, or permanent return to work. Each of these arrangements comes with rules and how Inland Revenue will view these arrangements.


Occasional return to work 


Parents on parental will need to be careful when coming back to work for occasional “keeping in touch” days (like team days). While these brief returns can help an employee stay connected with their employer, there are strict rules around the amount of these days that an employee can do before Inland Revenue considers them to be back at work permanently. These are:

  • The employee can do a maximum of 64 hours of paid work during their parental leave payment period, and
  • The employee cannot work within the first 28 days after their child is born.

If these conditions are not met, the employee will lose their parental leave payments. Payments that were made after they have been considered back at work will need to be paid back to Inland Revenue as an overpayment.


A temporary return to work during COVID-19 


Changes to the parental leave laws were made due to COVID-19 which allowed some workers to return temporarily without losing their entitlement to parental leave, and the protections and payments associated with it.


To qualify, the returning worker must be a “COVID-19 response worker”. These are employees who have had to return to work due to unusually high demand for workers in their role, their skills, experience, or qualifications. Additionally, nobody else must be able to fill their role. The employee can return for up to 12 weeks, after which they must then go back on parental leave. 


Returning to work permanently 


Typically, an employee on parental leave can only return early if their employer agrees. However, an employee can return without their employer’s agreement when:

  • They, or their spouse or partner, are no longer the primary carer of the child, or
  • The child is miscarried, stillborn, or dies.

In these circumstances, the employee would still need to provide their employer with at least 21 days’ notice before the date they want to return to work,


These rules and timelines must be kept in mind when returning to work early from parental leave to ensure that the new parent does not miss out on their entitlements due to poor planning.