Maternity Leave

16 April 2019

As an employer, there'll be times when a staff member working for you falls pregnant. And the closer they get to the due date; you need to start planning for their maternity leave.

There are legal entitlements that your employees receive when it comes to taking maternity leave, so it's crucial you manage the situation correctly. Not doing so could lead to claims being raised against you.

In this guide, we'll discuss what maternity leave is, how much leave employees are entitled to, and whether it's paid or not.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is a period of protected leave a new mother should receive following the birth of a child. All employees are entitled to this leave, whether they're full-time, part-time, or in casual employment.

There's no minimum length of service required for someone to take maternity leave, or a minimum number of hours worked per week.

Employees on maternity leave are covered by the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 - 2004.

How much maternity leave are employees entitled to?

The current entitlement for maternity leave in Ireland is 26 weeks, with an extra 16 weeks of unpaid additional maternity leave.

You must provide your employees with the correct amount of maternity leave, not doing so is a breach of employment law and may lead to claims being raised to the Workplace Commission.

When does the period of maternity leave start?

Maternity leave must be taken at least two weeks before the due date of the baby, and the employee must take at least four weeks' maternity leave after the birth.

Can an employee postpone maternity leave?

Yes, an employee can request to postpone their maternity leave. But only in very specific circumstances where the child is hospitalised.

If the newborn has to be admitted to hospital following the birth, the employee may want to postpone or delay their maternity leave. To do this, they need to make a request to their employer - which they have a right to refuse.

To postpone leave, the employee must have taken at least 14 week's maternity leave - including the four weeks after the birth. The remaining leave must be taken in one block, and within seven days of the baby being discharged.

If an employee returns to work during a period of postponed maternity leave and is then absent through illness, you can treat their absence as maternity leave or sick leave.

Is maternity leave paid?

Under Irish employment law, employers don't have to pay employees whilst on maternity leave. However, you can choose to pay your staff or make pension contributions during their leave.

What is Maternity Benefit?

Maternity Benefit is a state payment given to employees who are on maternity leave from work. This money is paid for 26 weeks (156 days), with Sunday not being included. It's paid directly to the employee weekly into their bank or building society account.

How should an employee claim maternity leave and Maternity Benefit?

To apply to start maternity leave, the employees must make the request to their employer in writing. To apply for Maternity Benefit, the employee must apply to the Maternity Benefit Section of the Department of Social Protection (DSP).

Some employers choose to continue to pay an employee fully whilst they're on maternity leave, but reduce the monthly salary payment by the amount of Maternity Benefit received by the employee.

How much notice is needed for an employee to start maternity leave?

For an employee to start maternity leave, they must provide you with at least four weeks' written notice. A medical certificate confirming their pregnancy is also required.

If you have an employee wanting to receive Maternity Benefit, they should make their application at least six weeks before the expected week of maternity leave.

However, if the doctor provides a medical certificate stating the leave must start earlier due to medical reasons - no other notice is required.

What happens to an employee's maternity leave if they have a stillbirth, miscarriage or the baby is premature?

If one of your employees suffers a miscarriage or stillbirth any time after the 24th week of pregnancy, or the baby has a birth weight of at least 500 grams - they're entitled to full maternity leave.

For premature births, employees are entitled to 26 weeks' leave. This starts from the day the baby is born, plus extra leave between the baby's actual date of birth and the planned start of maternity leave.

To apply for maternity leave or Maternity Benefit following a miscarriage or stillbirth, the employee must send a letter from their doctor with the Maternity Benefit (application form 9MB1). The letter must state the expected date of birth, the actual date of birth, and the number of weeks they were pregnant.

Employment rights for pregnant employees

When an employee falls pregnant whilst working for you, they have specific employment rights they're entitled to.

Let's discuss them in more detail:

Time off for medical appointments

Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off to attend any medical appointments that are connected to their pregnancy. They can take as much time off as required for these visits, including time travelling to and from.

The last two ante-natal medical appointments are taken by the employee after they have commenced maternity leave. But, they’re required to give two weeks’ notice before attending the appointments.

Time off for antenatal classes

Any employees who are pregnant are entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal classes. Pregnant staff are entitled to attend one set of antenatal classes, except for the last 3 classes of the set.

The father of the child is also entitled to attend the last two antenatal classes immediately before the birth.

Time off for Health and Safety leave

You should also carry out separate risk assessments for each employee who falls pregnant, has recently given birth, or is breastfeeding. These are in place to remove any risks, or to ensure the employee is at least moved away from them.

If either of the above options aren't possible, you should provide them with Health & Safety leave from work. Employees must be provided with their normal wages for the first three weeks of Health & Safety leave. It’s important to note they may be entitled to a social welfare benefit thereafter.

Employment rights for employees on maternity leave

All employees on maternity leave should be treated the same as if they were still working in the company. This means all their employment rights are protected throughout their time away, such as the accrual of annual leave. Employees on maternity leave are entitled to any public holiday pay throughout their period of leave.

Employers need to be very careful not to dismiss or treat employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave less favourably than other employees. Pregnant employees are protected from unfair dismissal, as well as discrimination and harassment.

Failure to protect all your employees is against Irish employment law. And unfair dismissal and discrimination claims by pregnant employees - or employees who are on maternity leave - can do a lot of damage to a small business.

How should an employee return to work after maternity leave?

You should do all you can to support your employees returning to work after maternity leave.

Employees returning after maternity leave have a legal right to return to the same job with the same contract of employment in place. However, if this can't be arranged, you must provide them with suitable alternative work.

If the pay and conditions of their role have improved during their time away from the company, they should get the same improvements when they return.

Another way you can support your employees with their return to work is by offering flexible working. Flexible working can help them spend more time with their newborn. For example, starting work later might help with overall care arrangements.

Can you be taken to the Workplace Commission over maternity leave?

Yes, you can be taken to the Workplace Commission over maternity leave. Remember, maternity leave is a legal requirement for employees in Ireland - so failure to provide it is against employment law.

Employees on maternity leave should always be treated as if they are working in the business. Not providing them with their statutory rights may lead to claims being raised against you.

Get expert advice on maternity leave from Peninsula

When running a company, there'll be times when an employee falls pregnant. This is an exciting time for them, but as an employer - you need to start preparing for their maternity leave.

It's vital you understand their maternity leave entitlements, including when it starts and how much notice they need to give you. Not getting it right could lead to claims being made to the Workplace Commission.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice support which is available 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 1800 719 218 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.

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