by Melanie Burgess, Careers deputy editor
BEFORE taking parental leave, workers should know their rights and plan ahead for their return to work so they do not short-change their finances or time spent with their child.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports the average mother who returns to work after having a child takes 32 weeks of paid and unpaid leave.
Women planning to have a baby or adopt should ask themselves three questions well before the arrival of a new child.
AM I ELIGIBLE FOR PARENTAL LEAVE PAY?
To receive payments from the Australian Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme, workers must have been employed for at least 10 of the 13 months before the birth or adoption of the child, and worked at least 330 hours in that 10-month period, with no more than eight weeks between work days.
Workers must also have an individual taxable income of less than $150,000 and not return to work during the paid leave period.
Parental Leave Pay is currently $695 a week before tax - the national minimum wage - for a maximum of 18 weeks, and can be received on top of any paid parental leave offered by the employer.
To check eligibility for employer-funded paid parental leave, workers should talk to their company's HR department.
WHAT ARE MY ENTITLEMENTS WHILE ON LEAVE?
Paid leave - such as annual and sick leave - may accumulate while workers are on employer-funded paid parental leave.
It does not accumulate if a worker is on unpaid leave or receiving the government's Parental Leave Pay.
The National Employment Standards stipulates workers are entitled to 12 months of unpaid parental leave as long as they have completed at least 12 months of continuous service with the employer.
If a worker decides to take unpaid leave, they are also entitled to up to 10 paid "keeping in touch days" at work to ensure the transition back will be smooth.
Learn more at the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
AM I MISSING ANYTHING?
Think about the potential effect on retirement savings.
Research from REST Industry Super reveals women are 30 per cent less likely than men to make superannuation plans for their career break and just 16 per cent make a superannuation contribution during their break.
On average, women's superannuation ends up $159,590 behind where it should be as a result.
REST brand, marketing and communications general manager Mary Atley says there are many structural issues contributing to the gender super imbalance, but the lack of financial planning ahead of a career break is one of the most important factors.
"Nearly $160,000 is a significant hit to a woman's retirement income - a hit which can be lessened with some careful considerations and actions," she says.
Women can make a voluntary contribution or salary sacrifice more to their superannuation fund while on leave or after they return to ensure their balance does not suffer.
ONE MOTHER'S EXPERIENCE ...
Sandra Hudson is mother of Evander, 12, and Emerald, eight, and founder of small business consultancy Hudsons GM.
She took two very different career approaches to each of her pregnancies.
"The first time, with Evander, I had a week off, then went back to work for three weeks, then had about six weeks off, then back full time. I was very career driven," she says.
"When I got to Emerald four years later, I was a bit wiser and took a full six months."
She says there are things she would have done differently, such as getting financial advise and setting a budget for her time off work.
"It's good to get that financial advice," she says.
"I'm 43 and I would have invested in super a lot younger because of compounding. The more you invest and the earlier you do it, the better off you are long term.
"Definitely get advice and a budget and plan but it's never the perfect time.
"Don't wait until you have everything sorted to have a baby because you just deal."