Leading employment lawyer Joe Murphy of Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors told HC Online the issue of discrimination around parental leave and pregnancy would be a big focus over the next year for employers and employees.
“Employers are confused about what they can and can’t do,” Murphy said.
“It’s a minefield for these employers, who are sometimes falling into error because they are not quite across the protections, rights and entitlements that do apply when an employee does fall pregnant,” he explained.
Employees are similarly flummoxed at times when they encounter problems.
“What I am seeing is employees who are also confused about what their rights and entitlements are,” Murphy said.
This is translating into increased legal activity in the parental leave area.
“At the moment, we are seeing an increase in claims, but not claims that will be successful in a legal sense,” Murphy said. “They are likely to be resolved, but not claims that would legally succeed. Nonetheless, there is definitely an increase in awareness by employees around this issue of discrimination,” he said.
Slated changes in parental leave entitlements - championed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott - are only causing more confusion. Due to commence on 1 July 2015, the Federal Government’s new paid parental leave scheme is set to offer parents on incomes up to $100,000 full salary replacement for 26 weeks plus super.
This is a reduction on the government’s initial pledge to offer parental leave up to a salary cap of $150,000, attacked for favouring higher income earners. Labor’s existing scheme gives employees 18 weeks’ leave at the minimum wage.
Murphy said with paid parental leave now sidelined for now due to difficulties with the Senate, it was igniting a focus on the issue for employees.
“The uncertainty around that is creating some anxiety for employees taking parental leave, so it’s converging towards a focus next year on this issue.”
Murphy said that this could result in a 2015 increase in the number of legal cases surrounding parental leave. He said that law firms were likely to be busier guiding employers through the ‘minefield’ next calendar year.
Parental leave is a ‘minefield’ that will likely result in increased legal activity next year, with employers and employees already uncertain about their entitlements.