Ask the expert: Everything you need to know about the new parental leave entitlements
Pregnant – or planning for baby – and wondering about your rights around parental leave?
The challenge for parents in managing work and childcare has been addressed on two fronts of late by the Irish Government. Parents of babies born on or after 1 November 2019 are now entitled to two weeks’ parent’s leave, paid by the Government. Separately, from September of this year, parents of children up to 12 years of age are entitled to up to 22 weeks’ unpaid leave to care for their child, under the confusingly similarly named “parental leave”.
We recently caught up with Aoife Bradley, Partner and Head of Employment, Pensions and Benefits at LK Shields Solicitors, to get answers to some of the basic questions around entitlements to parent’s leave and parental leave right now here in Ireland.
What is parent’s leave?
Employees and self-employed individuals are legally entitled to take two weeks’ leave, known as “parent’s leave”, within the first 52 weeks of the birth or adoption of a child, so that they can provide or assist in providing care to that child.
Is parent’s leave the same as maternity, paternity or unpaid parental leave?
No – parent’s leave is in addition to maternity, paternity, adoptive and unpaid parental leave.
What is parent’s benefit?
Your employer does not have to pay you while you are on parent’s leave, however you may be eligible for parent’s benefit (currently €245 per week) from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
Who can apply for parent’s leave and benefit?
The scope of who can apply for parent’s leave and benefit is broad and includes a parent, adopting mother, sole male adopter of a child as well as their spouse, civil partner or cohabitant. You do not need to have been with your employer for any specific length of time before you can apply for parent’s leave.
How can I take the two weeks’ leave?
You can take parent’s leave as one block of two weeks leave or two blocks of one week each.
What if I have twins?
A single two-week entitlement applies even where two or more children are born / adopted at the same time.
How do I apply for parent’s leave?
You must apply to your employer for parent’s leave at least 6 weeks before you intend to start your parent’s leave.
How do I apply for parent’s benefit?
If you are an employee, you must be approved for parent’s leave before you can apply for parent’s benefit. You then apply for parent’s benefit at least four weeks before you take the leave. If you are self-employed you apply for parent's benefit six weeks before your planned leave. You should check the Department’s website (www.welfare.ie) for further details on how to apply.
What is parental leave?
Separately, parents are entitled to up to 22 weeks’ unpaid leave (which will increase to 26 weeks on 1 September 2020) to care for their child. 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.
Who can apply for unpaid parental leave?
Either or both mother and father can apply for unpaid parental leave, as can an adoptive parent or someone acting in loco parentis. Generally, an employee must have at least one year’s service before they can take unpaid parental leave.
Can I transfer my unpaid parental leave to my other half?
If both parents work in the same company, their employer can agree to one parent transferring up to 14 weeks of parental leave to the other parent. You cannot transfer your unpaid parental leave entitlement if you have different employers.
How do I apply for unpaid parental leave?
You must provide your employer with six weeks’ notice of your intention to take unpaid parental leave and comply with any reasonable requests for evidence (e.g. copy birth certificate). Minimum periods of leave apply (e.g. one continuous block or two blocks of at least six weeks), unless your employer agrees otherwise.
Can my employer postpone my unpaid parental leave?
Yes - your employer can postpone your unpaid parental leave for a maximum of six months where your absence would have a substantial adverse effect on the business, but they must consult with you and give you notice in writing at least four weeks before your intended date of leave.
In this current competitive Irish jobs’ market, it is not unusual for employers to opt to “top up” parent’s leave by the difference in the amount paid by the State and your standard weekly pay so that you are not out of pocket for those two weeks. It is, however, relatively unusual for an employer to opt to pay an employee for any period of parental leave.
While the above sets out the minimum legal position, employees should always familiarise themselves with their contract of employment and company policies and handbooks when deciding whether to apply for any planned absence, as well as carefully weighing up the costs and benefits of any absence. If in doubt, ask your HR contact in work, or check www.welfare.ie for help.