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Choosing the best time to return to work after the arrival of your baby is a question that can cause stress for many women. Some women feel uncertain about what their entitlements are or pressured to return to work sooner than they would like. Others may want to return to work sooner than the length of time they are permitted to take. 

Here’s our advice on ensuring your maternity leave is as stress-free as possible.

1. Know your rights

Being across your entitlements is the first step. Currently in Australia eligible employees are permitted to take up to 12 months maternity leave with government maternity pay for up to 18 weeks. You may also be allowed an additional 12 months leave if desired. There are also stipulations around special maternity leave where unpaid leave is available in the event of pregnancy-related illness or if the pregnancy ends after 12 weeks because of miscarriage, termination or stillbirth. 

Another right you have as an employee that’s important to keep in mind is that you are entitled to return to work in the same position you held before maternity leave or if that position doesn’t exist anymore, you are entitled to a position of similar status and pay. It’s essential that you check the relevant government websites for the most up to date information as it specifically relates to your situation. 

2. Decide what’s best for you

Ultimately, the best time to return to your job after taking maternity leave is whenever it suits you. If you don’t feel ready, then neither you nor your employer will benefit. 

Once you’ve established what you’re entitled to then you can reflect on the circumstances that you think will work best for you. The amount of leave you end up taking may change but having a plan is helpful for both you and your employer. It also gives you the opportunity to plan for your child’s care arrangements once you go back to work – will you need to organise grandparents or day care? Is your partner going to take parental leave as well?

3. Communicate with your employer

Having a discussion with your employer about when you’re planning to take your maternity leave is important. You are not required to ask your employer how long you can take; you have the option of taking very little leave or (potentially) as much as two years. This is a personal decision and your legal right. However, it’s good business practice to clarify with your workplace what your plans are so they can make arrangements for while you’re absent. You may also be able to make more flexible arrangements around your return to work, such as moving to part-time work or more days working from home.

4. Stand up for yourself

In some instances, women feel pressured by their employer to return to work sooner than they would like. If this happens to you, being totally across your legal rights will mean you’re better equipped to stand up for yourself. 

Returning to work after maternity leave can also present some hurdles. Make sure that you are managing the expectations of your employer. For example, if you’re going to be returning to work part-time in the same role, then you can’t be expected to manage the same workload you did while working five days a week.