Women in education

Returning to work after maternity leave requires planning

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant there are some important things to consider. In addition to your maternity leave it is recommended that you start to plan early for your return to work. Many of the calls Federation receives through the Professional Support section about maternity leave ask what to do when the request to work parttime or the days requested have been declined or teachers are informed they will be doing some form of inbuilt relief, filling in gaps in timetables, release from face-to-face (RFF), etc, when they return.

The administration of maternity leave for permanent and temporary teachers in schools is prescribed by Determination No. 7 of 2016. Casual teachers are covered by a separate Determination as they cannot take “maternity leave” but may be eligible for a maternity payment.

Permanent teachers have a right to return to their substantive position after maternity leave. Temporary teachers have a right to return to their position if they are returning to work before the end of the temporary engagement from which they took leave. Permanent and temporary teachers also have the “right to request” to return to work on a part-time basis until the child reaches school age. Given the complexities of coordinating child care availability and a school timetable, teachers and principals should begin negotiations as early as possible.

The Determination states that the Department “shall consider the request having regard to the teacher’s circumstances” and may only refuse the request on “reasonable grounds” related to the effect on the workplace such as cost, lack of replacement staff or loss of efficiency.

While a principal has the responsibility for the allocation of duties and classes across the school to meet the learning needs of the students, schools cannot have a policy whereby any teacher requesting part-time will be removed from the timetable or teach outside their subject area as inbuilt relief or be denied the opportunity to job share, as this would be discriminatory. Each request should be considered in accordance with the Determination and the teacher’s circumstances.

Teachers have the right to be supported in their professional learning. A teacher’s caring responsibilities, including working part time to meet those responsibilities, should not be used to deny access to opportunities in a way that would stifle the teacher’s professional growth.

Teachers returning from maternity leave who wish to continue breastfeeding should also begin discussions about lactation breaks well before returning. (See last editions’s column for more information)

Any teacher experiencing difficulties returning to work following maternity leave should contact Federation for advice.