From 1 September 2019, Irish law on parental leave is changing. Below we answer some of the more pertinent questions on the effect of these changes.
The current entitlement is up to 18 weeks unpaid leave. From 1 September 2019, there will be an entitlement to an additional four weeks' unpaid parental leave, which will increase by a further four weeks from September 2020.
If an employee has already utilised their 18 week entitlement, and they still meet the qualifying criteria (as set out below) he or she may still avail of an additional four weeks from September 2019 and a further four weeks from September 2020, provided that they have not already utilised their maximum entitlement of 14 weeks pre-2006 (the historic cap on leave entitlement).
Unpaid parental leave is available to employees who are parents of a child under the age of 12 or under the age of 16 years in the case of a child with a disability or long-term illness. Generally, an employee must have one year’s continuous service to be entitled to take unpaid parental leave.
Either parent or both mother and father can apply for this leave, as can an adoptive parent or an individual acting in loco parentis. If both parents work in the same company, an employer may agree to one parent transferring up to 14 weeks of leave to the other parent. There is no transferability of leave between employees with different employers.
A parent must provide their employer with six weeks’ notice of their intention to take unpaid parental leave and provide the employer with such evidence as the employer may reasonably require (if so requested). Minimum periods of leave apply (for example one continuous block or two blocks of at least 6 weeks), unless the employer agrees otherwise.
Employers may postpone an employee's parental leave for a maximum of six months in circumstances where the employee's absence would have a substantial adverse effect on the business, by consulting with the employee and giving notice in writing to the employee at least four weeks before the employee’s intended date of leave.
Employers must retain parental leave records for 12 years.
Company policies should be reviewed and updated to reflect the changes being introduced. Also it is vital that the employee is entitled to return to the job he or she held immediately before taking parental leave.
It remains to be seen whether this increase in entitlement will result in an increase in uptake which has to date been low, presumably because the leave is unpaid.
Entirely separate to the above entitlements, a new parental leave scheme is expected to offer two weeks leave and benefit to each parent of a new baby born from 1 November 2019. The two weeks' paid leave, which the Government plans to increase incrementally to seven weeks by 2021, must be used within the first year of the child being born or the placement of an adopted child.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will pay this parental benefit at the same rate as maternity and paternity benefit (currently €245 per week). It will be up to employers to decide if they wish to “top up” payment to employees earning above this amount.
If you have any questions on your organisation’s obligations in respect of parental leave, please contact Aoife Bradley, or any member of the Employment, Pensions and Employee Benefits Group at LK Shields Solicitors.
The content of this publication does not constitute legal or other professional advice and is not intended to be relied upon as such.