Maternity leave is a period of statutory leave whereby a pregnant employee may take time-off from work around the birth of their child. Maternity leave is considered to be “protective leave”. As such, while it was initially introduced to protect the health and safety of employees, it is also aimed to ensure that such employees are not unfairly singled out by employers, such as in a redundancy scenario. This means that employees may not have their contract of employment terminated while on maternity leave and they must be guaranteed a return from maternity leave to the same position they occupied prior to the leave or, if this is impossible, to a post which is no less favourable than the post held prior to the leave.
In Ireland, pregnant employees are entitled to take maternity leave for a basic period of 26 weeks irrespective of length of service or hours worked and they will also be entitled to take an additional 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave. During maternity leave and the additional maternity leave, with the exception of remuneration, the employee has the right to benefit from normal contractual terms and conditions of employment that she would have enjoyed if she had not been absent (including annual leave and public holiday entitlement). In this context “remuneration” has been deemed to include such things as company car, mobile phone etc. The employee may be entitled to an Allowance from the relevant State Department (currently the Department of Social Protection).