New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and partner Clark Gayford are expecting their first child in June 2018, just shy of the July 1 effective date of a new law extending the period of paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks. The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill, passed on November 30, 2017 extends the period of paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks by July 1, 2020. The government’s expressed aim is to support working families, reduce financial stress, and to allow for more bonding time for care givers who are not in a position to take any unpaid leave.

The new law amends the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 under which eligible employees are entitled to job-protected leave to care for their newborn baby or child under the age of six years old in their primary care for a period of either twenty six weeks or one year, depending upon their length of service. Not all of this period of job-protected leave is paid: eligible parents and primary care givers are presently entitled to parental leave payments for a period of 18 weeks. To relieve financial stress and support working families unable to afford any unpaid time off work, from July 1, 2018 parental leave payments will be paid for 22 weeks and further extended to 26 weeks from July 1, 2020. In addition, the number of “keep in touch” days, which allow the employee on leave to work within the period of paid parental leave, will be increased from 40 hour to 52 hour from July 1, 2018; and to 64 hours from July 1, 2020.

Parents or primary care givers of a baby due on or after the two effective dates, July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2020, will be eligible for the additional paid leave that become available on those dates even if the baby is born before July 1 in those years. And, parents or primary care givers of babies expected in June of 2018 and 2020 but born in July of those years, will also be entitled to the additional paid leave.

Employers will not be required to provide an extended period of job-protected leave, but they can expect parents and primary caregivers to take advantage of the longer period of paid leave available to them. Good use of the keep in touch days will help keep the employee on leave engaged with the workplace and, therefore, better prepared to return to work at the end of the leave period.

Given this expansion of benefits, many soon-to-be parents in New Zealand will have some added time away with their newly expanded families. While Prime Minister Ardern and her partner will miss this opportunity by the narrowest of margins, they are nonetheless learning a valuable parenting lesson that all new parents eventually experience: babies rarely comply with their parents’ schedules!