Parental leave entitles parents to take unpaid leave from work to care for their children. From 1 September 2020, parental leave entitlement for eligible parents has been extended up to 26 weeks’ leave in respect of each eligible child.
The change was made under the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 (“the Act”), which had extended the entitlement from 18 weeks to 22 weeks last year. Parents who have already availed of the previous extension to 22 weeks are eligible to avail of the additional 4 weeks.
The purpose behind the legislation is to provide more flexibility to working parents.
Parents including adoptive parents and persons acting in loco parentis are entitled to the leave. The Act also increased the age of the eligible child for whom parental leave can be taken from 8 years up to 12 years. If a child has a disability, then the leave may be taken up until the child is 16 years old.
How is the leave taken? What the law says and what can be agreed?
The Act states that the leave may be taken either as one continuous period or two separate blocks of at least 6 weeks. An employer may also consent to an arrangement whereby the leave may be broken into periods of days and/or hours.
An employee must give their employer at least 6 weeks’ notice before taking parental leave, and there must be a gap of at least 10 weeks between periods of parental leave.
Generally, an employee must be working for their employer for 1 year before they are entitled to parental leave. However, if the child is very near the age threshold and an employee has been working for the same employer for a period exceeding 3 months but less than 1 year, parental leave may be taken on a pro-rata basis.
Can an employer refuse to give the leave?
An employer can only refuse to give an employee parental leave on the grounds of non-entitlement.
An employer may postpone the leave for up to 6 months. However, this must be done before the confirmation document is signed. After that, the leave cannot be postponed without further written agreement. An employer is entitled to postpone the leave for reasons such as lack of cover, if other employees are already on parental leave, or if the employer believes the leave is not being used to take care of the child concerned. Only one postponement is usually allowed, but it may be postponed twice if the reason is seasonal variations in the volume of work.
If an employee has a complaint – what can they do?
If an employee has a complaint about parental leave, they can refer the complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission, within 6 months of the complaint occurring.
Parent’s leave is distinct from parental leave as parent’s leave is specifically for parents during the child’s first year. It aims to let working parents spend more time with their baby or adopted child during this first year.
An employee may also qualify for a statutory payment called Parent’s Benefit during Parent’s leave if they have enough social insurance (PRSI) contributions.
Each parent is entitled to 2 weeks’ paid parent’s leave for a child born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019. An employer does not have to pay an employee while they are on parent’s leave, although some employers may ‘top-up’ the leave.
Parent’s leave is governed by the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019. The legislation provides an employee must meet certain criteria to be eligible to take parent’s leave. They must:
- Be a relevant parent
- Take the leave within 52 weeks of the birth of the child or in the case of adoption, from the placement date
- Give at least 6 weeks’ notice to the employer
The government has announced that it may amend the parent’s leave in Budget 2021. The proposed changes are as follows:
- 2 weeks' parent’s leave will increase to 5 weeks for each parent
- 2 weeks’ Parent’s Benefit will increase to 5 weeks for each parent (if they qualify)
- Parents will be allowed to take the leave in the first 2 years of a child’s life
Employers should consider revising their policies in respect of the recent changes and be mindful that changes to Parent’s Leave are likely.
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About the Author
Mary Gavin is an associate in the Employment Law team at Hayes Solicitors. She has extensive expertise in all areas of employment law, providing advice to both employees and employers.