Maternity and Paternity Leave in South Africa – A Guide for Employers

Understanding South Africa’s maternity and paternity leave provisions is vital for a balanced workplace and supportive company culture. For employers, it’s not just about following the rules – smart businesses know that offering good parental leave policies demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being.

While the law provides the basics, companies that understand their workforce’s needs often go above and beyond with more generous policies. This helps them attract and keep the best employees while staying on the right side of the law.

In this post, we’ll lay out the specific legal requirements for maternity and paternity leave in South Africa.

Key Laws and Entitlements for Employers to Be Aware Of

This Act is your go-to guide for all the basics regarding employment. Chapter 3.4 – 3.7 (section 25) specifically deals with parental leave, and we discuss it in detail below.  

The UIF provides financial relief for employees on unpaid parental leave by offering partial income replacement payments.  To qualify for these benefits, the employee and their employer must have been contributing to the UIF, and they need to follow the correct application process. 

While this law mainly focuses on things like unions and disputes, it’s important to be aware of it. Different sectors of the economy sometimes have their own agreements, known as Sectoral Determinations, which might include extra rules around maternity or paternity leave.

A recent Gauteng High Court ruling has really shaken things up in terms of how parental leave is viewed and how it’s likely to be implemented in the future (see 4. below). 

Maternity Leave

All female employees are entitled to maternity leave, regardless of their length of service, contract type (full-time, part-time, etc.), or citizenship status.

  • Duration:  Maternity leave consists of a mandatory four consecutive months.
  • Start Date: An employee can begin her leave up to four weeks before her expected due date. Earlier leave may be granted if a medical practitioner or midwife considers it necessary. You and an employee may agree on a later start date, but this must be in writing.
  • Returning to Work: Employees have the right to return to the same or a comparable position after their maternity leave. Employees cannot be dismissed or discriminated against due to pregnancy or taking maternity leave.
  • Post-Birth Restriction: To protect the well-being of new mothers, the law prohibits mothers from working for 6 weeks after giving birth unless a medical practitioner certifies them fit to return earlier.

Maternity Benefits through the UIF:

UIF maternity benefits provide a partial income replacement of the employee’s lost income. To qualify, employees must be current contributors to the UIF fund, which means that both the employee and you as the employer must have made regular contributions.

  • They must be on maternity leave and be receiving less than their full salary, or no salary.
  • Applicants must personally submit the required documentation and follow the correct application process at a Department of Labour office. Both the employee and the employer must fill in the correct forms. The employee must also submit a copy of her ID, a copy of her child’s birth certificate, and her banking details. 
  • As a company you can consider supplementing the UIF benefits for your employees by financial support above UIF benefits. You can also offer extended maternity leave and flexible return-to-work arrangements.

Paternity Leave

As the law stands now, all fathers, regardless of their employment status or length of service, are entitled to 10 consecutive days of paternity leave around the time of their child’s birth. This paternity leave is unpaid, and fathers are not eligible for UIF benefits during this period. You as the employer and the father can negotiate the exact timing to accommodate the family’s needs. 

Paternity leave is meant to be taken in addition to the mother’s maternity leave, allowing the father to provide support for his wife and also care for the newborn. As an employer you are entitled to request proof of the father’s relationship with the child, i.e. a birth certificate.

Recent Court Ruling and Evolving Policies

On 25 October 2023, Deputy Judge President Sutherland handed down judgement in the case of Van Wyk and Others v Minister of Employment and Labour [2023] ZAGPJHC 1213. This landmark judgement fundamentally alters how maternity and parental leave is viewed and how it will be dealt with in the future. 

The gist of it is that the Gauteng High Court found the old-fashioned split between maternity and paternity leave to be discriminatory. For now, there’s an interim measure in place for 24 months to give lawmakers room to amend the existing legislation and formalise new gender-neutral parental leave legislation. 

This measure basically gives all parents 4 consecutive months’ of parental leave that the parents can share and utilise as they see fit. This interim measure has to be confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

As an employer it’s vital that you are aware of any further relevant changes to the existing legislation. It’s likely that paternity leave will be extended and that father’s will also become eligible for UIF benefits during their parental leave.

Best Practices for Employers

Forward-looking employers know that supporting new parents beyond simply complying with the law holds great benefits for companies and employees alike. These include improved employee morale and retention, the enhancement of the company’s reputation and the ability to attract top talent, as well as reduced absenteeism. 

Supporting your employees through major life transitions fosters their long-term commitment, builds staff loyalty and creates a workplace where everybody can thrive. Here are a few key practices you can use to create a transparent, family-friendly workplace:

  • Have a written policy that clearly outlines your company’s approach to maternity, paternity, and other forms of parental leave like adoption leave (Section 25B of the BCEA). 
  • Offer company-specific benefits, like medical insurance, or supplementation of UIF payments. 
  • Clearly stipulate notice requirements and application procedures for parental leave.
  • Offer flexible options for start of leave and return to work, i.e. phased return, or flexible working arrangements like work-from-home.
  • Create a supportive environment where employees feel valued and comfortable about discussing their plans and needs. 
  • Regular review and revision of your policies to stay current with best practices and legal updates.

For employers who want to go the extra mile, offering EMERGIVAC membership as part of your employment benefits can be a potent factor in building a happy and dedicated workforce. We offer a variety of affordable medical insurance plans that provide comprehensive coverage for your employees. These include access to private hospitals, specialists, and life-saving emergency armed roadside and home assistance. 

For new parents in particular, EMERGIVAC’s Mum & Baby benefit provides 24/7 access to a dedicated helpline staffed by experienced nurses. This helpline offers invaluable medical advice and support throughout pregnancy and those crucial early months with a newborn. 

Partner with EMERGIVAC today to create a winning environment for your employees and your business!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the basic legal requirements for maternity and paternity leave in South Africa

Employers must adhere to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and provide maternity leave as stipulated in Chapter 3.4 – 3.7 (section 25). Paternity leave, on the other hand, is currently set at 10 consecutive days, as per the existing law.

2. Can employees receive financial support during maternity or paternity leave?

Yes, employees can receive partial income replacement through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) if they meet certain criteria. Both the employee and the employer must have made regular contributions to qualify for these benefits.

3. Are there any recent court rulings affecting parental leave policies in South Africa?

Yes, a recent Gauteng High Court ruling (ZAGPJHC 1213) has led to significant changes in how parental leave is perceived. The court found the traditional differentiation between maternity and paternity leave to be discriminatory. As a result, an interim measure has been put in place to provide gender-neutral parental leave for all parents, with potential extensions and further changes expected.

4. How can employers support their employees during maternity and paternity leave?

Employers can demonstrate support by offering flexible leave options, supplementary benefits beyond legal requirements, and creating a supportive work environment. It’s also crucial for employers to stay updated on legislative changes to ensure compliance and equitable treatment of employees.

5. What practices can employers implement to create a family-friendly workplace?

Employers can establish written policies outlining leave entitlements, offer additional benefits like medical insurance, and provide flexible work arrangements. Regular policy reviews and open communication channels contribute to fostering a workplace culture that values employees’ well-being.

6. How can EMERGIVAC membership benefit new parents and their employers?

EMERGIVAC offers medical insurance plans with comprehensive coverage, including access to 24/7 medical advice for new parents through dedicated helplines. Partnering with EMERGIVAC can enhance employee benefits and contribute to a supportive workplace environment.


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