Many working parents look to use statutory parental leave to take time off during the school summer holidays to mind their children, particularly when the kids are of national school going age. Indeed working parents often have little option but to seek this leave given the high cost of childcare in Ireland and the lack of any real affordable short-term childcare options.
For employers, the challenge with parental leave is addressing the work deficit while the employee is out of work. This can prove difficult where there are multiple applications for leave or during busy periods. Employees can become disgruntled, raising complaints where there is no transparency as to why leave is granted in one scenario and not another. Employers can help by having a clear policy on how parental leave is to be applied and the criteria to be considered if postponing parental leave.
What is the parental leave entitlement?
The Parental Leave Acts 1998-2013 allow for up to 18 weeks unpaid leave from work to men and women (for each child) to care for their young children. Generally to avail of the leave a child must be under the age of 8. The leave must be taken in a continuous block of 14 weeks or two separate blocks of at least 6 weeks. Alternatively the employer and employee can agree themselves how the leave will be taken. Employees often look to work a four-day week, or perhaps take a month off each summer over the course of a number of years.
An employee must use the time off to care for his or her children. If this is not the case then the employer has the right to cancel the leave. As part of any parental leave policy an employer should also make clear that this would also be considered a disciplinary issue.
There is no entitlement for an employee to be paid while off or receive pension contributions from the employer. There is no social welfare available. PRSI credits are protected, however. Similar to maternity leave all other employment rights are protected including the right to continuous employment, paid annual leave and paid public holidays.
How does an employee apply?
An application for parental leave must be made in writing to the employer at least six weeks before the intended leaving date. It should set out the length of time off requested and expected return date. If granted, the employee must then sign a written document with the employer four weeks before the leave is due to start.
Postponement of leave
An employer is allowed to postpone leave on one occasion for business needs reasons and in limited circumstances can postpone for a second time due to volumes of work. Before postponement the employer must first consult with the employee and give a written reason for the postponement. There is no right to an on-going postponement.
Return to work
After parental leave an employee does not have an absolute right to their old job - an employer can place the employee in a suitable alternative position. On their return an employee can request a short term change in work hours, but there is no obligation on the employer to grant the change.
A Government inter-departmental group examining the costs and quality of early years and school-age care, launched in January 2015 by the Minister for Children, is due to present its first report this month. One suggestion is allowing employees a full year off to be shared between parents in the child’s first year, currently it is only if employees work for the same employer that parental leave can be shared. However, draft legislation on this and other changes to parental leave are not yet on the horizon.
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Business Post on Sunday 14 June 2015Back to Full News
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About the Author
Anne is a partner in the Employment team at Hayes solicitors. She has considerable experience advising and representing employers and employees on all aspects of the employment relationship from pre-employment matters to termination.