LawTalk Blog

Family matters, employment law and Mums returning to work

family law working mothers

The professional and the pram. The chronicles of a working mother

To the 'Y' generation the term "having it all" is often reflected as an overly ambitious, unattainable goal encouraged by the bra burning feminists of former decades. The reason I can so consequently attest to the impossibility of this statement is that I myself am a 'Y' generation working mother; a family law solicitor in fact, who is also raising two young children.

Many of my fellow 'Y' generation mothers, like me, juggle a professional life along with motherhood and together we muse how the term "having it all" is merely a recipe for disaster; a constant reminder hanging over your perfectly coiffed head of all the things you very well "are not" as you try to forge a stellar career, be voted mother-of-the-year and lose that unrelenting last 5kg of baby weight. Such ambitions commonly lead to a deep internal dissatisfaction and a serious risk of post partum illness.    

It is this very reason that I chose to take a step back and work part-time while raising my young brood. Often people reflecting on my busy schedule comment "oh you have it ALL". I gently remind them that I don't have it all but in fact what I have is "balance"; that sweet word that suggests that instead of trying to juggle one thousand plates at once, I am balancing them all confidently on my arms, with a surety that they will not drop and break. As a result I am a better employee. I manage to do more in my two days of work than I ever did in five, with the knowledge that I have limited time to complete my tasks. I am also a better mother. I get to spend quality chunks of time with my two adorable children (no matter how crazy they may drive me at times!).

Yes, I have had to make sacrifices. Yes, it may mean that I don't become a Partner by the age of 35, but to me having an overall satisfaction in all areas of my life wins out over having fulfilment in one or several areas only. This is not to suggest that mother's who work full time are not fulfilling their maternal role. This is simply a reflection from my own personal experience and capacity to strike a balance in my life across all areas.

I am also fortunate to work for a law firm who supports a work life balance. I am aware that there are still many law firms and employers who do not support a work life balance or support their employees who seek parental leave. Shame on them; in this day and age such archaic practices will only serve to disrepute their business, attract a high turn over of staff and compromise their ability to be able to draw fresh, brilliant and eager employees into their fold.   

Having recently given birth and faced with the proposition of choosing a timeframe in which to return to work after my parental leave, my ultimate choice was based on my own experiences and lifestyle. Like all employees in Australia I was entitled to the rights afforded to all employees seeking parental leave and returning to work after parental leave. Such rights in Australia include:

  • The minimum entitlement for unpaid parental leave for all employee's in Australia is 12 months (this does not mean that the parent on leave has to take the full 12 months leave, such timeframes can be negotiated with the employer);
  • During the first twelve months, an employee who has not elected to take the full twelve months parental leave may extend their leave once without the approval of the employer. The employee must provide four weeks written notice and specify the return to work date which cannot be more than twelve months from the date the employee commenced parental leave.
  • An employee may apply to extend their parental leave beyond the initial twelve months, for a period of up to twelve months, with the approval of the employer. The employee must make this request in writing with four weeks' notice before the employee is due back to work.
  • An employee who has been on parental leave is entitled to come back to the job they had before they went on leave;
  • If a female employee reduced her hours before she went on parental leave due to her pregnancy, she is entitled to return to her original role;
  • If someone else takes over the employee's job while they are on leave this does not mean that the job does not exist anymore. Employers have the obligation to tell employees who are doing someone else's job that they are not in that job permanently;
  • Certain employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements (part-time, working from home etc) or hours that were different prior to their parental leave. While the employer does not have to comply with the employee's request, such request must be considered and can only be refused on reasonable business grounds.

To any parent returning to work after a period of parental leave it is strongly encouraged that you research your rights and become educated in relation to parental leave. For those of you who have inflexible employers or are worried about the security of your employment, you can seek guidance and assistance from one of our employment law specialists, to ensure your rights and entitlements are being met.

Please note, this Blog is posted in Adelaide, South Australia by Andersons Solicitors. It relates to Australian Federal legislation. Andersons Solicitors is a medium sized law firm servicing metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia across all areas of law for individuals and businesses.

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