Time for employers to prepare for parent’s leave

Oct 17, 2019

This summer saw the introduction of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019, extending unpaid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks with a further extension to 26 weeks parental leave in 2020. Recently, the Government has published the new Parent’s Leave and Benefit Bill 2019, providing parents with an optional two weeks paid leave. Michael Doyle explains what employers need to know.

The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 introduces paid parent's leave for employees in Ireland for the first time, building on existing statutory entitlements to paid maternity, paternity and adoptive leave.

Subject to an employee having made the requisite PRSI contributions, a relevant parent will be entitled to take two weeks of paid leave within the first 52 weeks of a child's birth. This will be paid by the State at the same rate as the current State Illness Benefit (€245 per week). However, the Bill does not oblige employers to pay employees while on parent's leave. It will be up to each employer to decide whether to top up an employee's parent's benefit and by how much.

What is the difference between Parental Leave and Parent's Leave?

Earlier versions of the Bill referred to this new paid leave as Parental Leave and Benefit. The newly published 2019 Bill has changed the name to Parent's Leave and Benefit to distinguish parent's leave from parental leave, which is a separate and distinct entitlement under the Parental Leave Acts 1998–2019.

Parental leave in Ireland remains an unpaid entitlement for employees.

It is important to note that parent’s leave is separate and distinct to the two weeks' paid paternity leave entitlement introduced via the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016.

Key provisions of the 2019 Bill

There are a few key provisions of the Parent’s Leave and Benefit Bill that employers should keep in mind:

  • All relevant parents will be entitled to this leave, including:
    • parent of a child, a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the parent of a child;
    • a parent of a donor-conceived child;
    • adopting parent or parents of a child;
    • the spouse, civil partner or spouse of the adopting parent of the child and each member of a married couple of the same sex, a couple that are civil partners of each other, or a cohabiting couple of the same sex.
  • Parent's leave can only be taken within the first 52 weeks of the child's birth or the day of placement of adoption.
  • Parent's leave can be taken in a continuous period of two weeks or in separate blocks of one week each.
  • An employee will be required to give six weeks' notice, setting out the expected date on which the leave will begin and the duration of the planned leave.
  • A parent will not be entitled to claim parent's benefit more than once where there are multiple births or adoptions.
  • Parent's leave cannot be transferred between parents other than in specified circumstances, such as the death of a parent.
  • Employers are entitled to postpone parent's leave where it would have a substantial adverse effect on the operation of the employer's business. For example, seasonal variations in the volume of work or the number of employees who are also taking parent's leave. Employers cannot postpone the leave for more than 12 weeks.
  • Absence on parent's leave will not affect the employee's rights (other than the right to remuneration).
  • Employees are entitled to protection from penalisation, including dismissal and unfair treatment for exercising their entitlement to parent's leave. The employee is entitled to return to their normal job and to the same terms and conditions of employment before they commenced the parent's leave.
  • The Workplace Relations Commission can order the granting of the parent's leave and/or compensation of up to two weeks' remuneration where there is a breach. For example, where an employer postpones an employee's parent's leave but doesn’t permit them to take it within 12 weeks.

What should employers be doing?

Employment handbooks and family leave policies should be updated to cater for this new statutory leave. A key consideration for employers will be whether employees' State parent’s benefit will be topped-up. In practice, many employers will mirror the position adopted for topping up paid paternity leave.

Employers will need to outline the application/notification process and employee's statutory rights while on parent’s leave. In circumstances where an employee’s parent’s leave needs to be postponed, employers would be well advised to consult with the employee prior to confirming the postponement in writing.

Time to prepare

When introducing the Bill, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection said: "in both 2017 and 2018, almost 25,000 new fathers availed of the newly established two-week paid Paternity Leave scheme". He further hopes that all new parents will do the same for the new parent’s leave once established as “it will provide working parents with a further opportunity to spend more time with their new baby during its first year which is of particular importance." We expect the Minister's aspiration will become a reality once this new statutory leave is introduced. We recommend employers familiarise themselves with the Bill now and take appropriate measures to ensure they are ready to process parent's leave applications, which could be received as soon as within the next few weeks.

You can read the Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 here.

Michael Doyle is a Partner in A&L Goodbody.