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Not so ‘cuddly’ childcare centre fined for maternity leave sacking

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A Perth childcare business, Cuddles Management Pty Ltd, was recently fined nearly $30,000 for its dismissal of a childcare centre manager proposing to return from maternity leave and for its refusal to co-operate with the union pursuing the rights of the former employee.  This case provides a warning to employers that there are responsibilities to employees returning from parental leave.

Employers should ensure that they do not disadvantage employees returning from parental leave through neglect.  If changes are necessary to the workplace, which could impact upon such employees, employers should ensure that they keep such employees informed and consult with them, where appropriate.  Employers should make it a practice to contact a parental leave employee at least four weeks prior to the intended resumption date, to confirm the arrangements for the return to work or to discuss any potential changes sought by either the employer or the employee.

Parents of a child under school age are now entitled to make a written request for flexible working arrangements to care for the child, provided they are not casual employees and have more than 12 months service with the employer.  Employers must respond in writing within 21 days of such a request and may only refuse on reasonable business grounds.  It is likely that Courts will take into account the employer’s willingness to consult with the employee, should it be required to determine whether a refusal was reasonable on business grounds.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is currently investigating 40 cases involving employers either terminating the employment of employees attempting to return to work from parental leave, or otherwise treating such employees unfavourably upon their return.  Keeping in touch and being favourably disposed to reasonable flexible working arrangements will minimise the likelihood of being added to this list.

Employers should seek advice prior to terminating employees to ensure that proper procedures are followed.  MST’s Workplace Relations team is available to answer any questions you may have on terminating employees.

Author: Charles Cody