Many pregnant women in Australia have no problem working during their pregnancy, however what happens when, through pregnancy related illness or your job requirements, you can’t safely work? This article will explore two relatively unheard of entitlements to suit these situations.

By Kirsten Lesina

Unpaid special maternity leave

Unpaid special maternity leave may be taken by a pregnant employee if they suffer from a pregnancy related illness and are unfit for work, or where the pregnancy ends (i.e. by miscarriage or stillbirth) within 28 weeks of the expected date of birth. If you need to take special maternity leave, you must inform your employer as soon as possible, as this can often be after the leave has already started. You need to tell your employer how long your expected period of leave is and provide your employer with evidence of the need for the leave, such as a medical certificate, if requested.

Unpaid special maternity leave is completely separate from parental leave and does not reduce your entitlements to parental leave.

Transfer to a safe job or take ‘no safe job leave’

If you are pregnant, you are entitled to a job that you can do safely within the confines of your pregnancy – that is, you are entitled to an ‘appropriate safe job’ that has the same ordinary hours of work as your present job.

If, because of either illness or risk arising out of pregnancy or hazards connected with your job, you are unable to continue your present job, but are otherwise fit for work, you can provide evidence (such as a medical certificate) to your employer and you are then entitled to be transferred to an appropriate safe job for the risk period identified in the evidence you provided.

Whilst you are working in the appropriate safe job, you are entitled to be paid the same rate of pay for the same ordinary hours you were working in your previous job.

If your employer is not able to provide you with appropriate safe job, and you are entitled to unpaid parental leave (e.g. you have worked for your employer for 12 continuous months), you are entitled to take paid ‘no safe job leave’ for the risk period, with the pay to be your base rate of pay for the hours you were previously working.

If you are on ‘no safe job leave’ within six weeks of your expected due date, your employer may ask you to provide them with a medical certificate stating your fitness for work. If you do not provide the requested medical certificate within seven days after the request, or the medical certificate states that you are not fit for work, your employer may require you to start your unpaid parental leave.

If your workplace does not have an appropriate safe job and you are not entitled to unpaid parental leave, then you are entitled to take unpaid ‘no safe job leave’ for the risk period.

If you have any issues in your workplace during the course of our pregnancy, and would like advice about your rights, please do not hesitate to contact our employment lawyer, Ms Kirsten Lesina.