The right of employees to take unpaid parental leave is set out in the Parental Leave Acts, 1998-2019. This right is also set out in the European Union Regulations 2013 (SI No.81/2013) that came about in March 2013.
The purpose of the law is to allow parents to take a period of unpaid leave from their employment to care for young children.
When paid parent’s leave laws were introduced in 2019, parents received a right to paid leave from work during the first year of a child’s life.
The main rights under parent’s leave include:
- A new two-week period of paid parent’s leave (rising to five weeks in 2021/22).
- Parent’s leave is non-transferable. Each parent must use their own allocation and only their own allocation.
- Parent’s leave must be taken within the first two years of a newborn infant’s life.
How long is parental leave in Ireland?
As of 1st September 2020, employees are entitled to 26 weeks of unpaid parental leave.
Who is eligible?
Parental leave rights are available to parents via either birth or adoption and employees who are acting in loco parentis. They can be employees that are full-time, part-time or fixed-term employees.
What is the difference between parental leave vs parents leave vs paternity leave in Ireland?
Parental leave, parent’s leave and paternity leave are three different employee entitlements under three different pieces of legislation.
Parental leave is unpaid, lasts for up to 26 weeks and is available to employees with children under the age of twelve.
Paternity leave is available to new fathers (or parents who are not mothers), lasts for two weeks and must be taken within six months of the child’s birth or adoption. Paternity leave is also accompanied by a state benefit.
Parent’s leave is available to parents during the first two years of the child’s life. It has recently been extended to five weeks in Budget 2021 and is accompanied by a state benefit.
Can parental leave be refused in Ireland?
An employer can only refuse a request for parental leave if an employee is not entitled to take it.
This is uncommon, but there are grounds for refusal or postponement of parental leave. These include a lack of cover, or if there are other employees currently on parental leave themselves.
Parental leave can be postponed for up to six months and is usually the only time it can be postponed.
However, in the event of seasonal variations in the volume of work, parental leave may be postponed a second time. It cannot be postponed again after this though.
If an employee’s parental leave is postponed, the employer must provide written notice with a written agreement.
Employee child’s age range
Some may have questions about any parental leave age limits. The following age requirements in respect of the employee’s child make employees eligible for parental leave.
For biological children, you must take parental leave before the child turns 12 years of age.
For adopted children, you must take parental leave before the child turns 12 years of age. Or, if you adopted the child between the ages of 10 and 12, you must take the leave within 2 years of the adoption order.
For children with a disability or long-term illness, you must take parental leave before the child turns 16 years of age.
Generally speaking, your employees must have at least one year’s continuous service with you before they can take parental leave. This is subject to the following exception.
The exception is when the child is nearing 12 years of age (or 16 if the child has a disability) and the employee has more than 3 months’ service. He/she is then entitled to a period of parental leave pro-rated to their period of service.
In practice, the employee receives one week’s leave for every month of continuous employment when the leave begins.
How to apply for parental leave in Ireland
Employees must give six weeks’ notice, in writing, of their intention to apply for parental leave. The notice must include the following details:
- The date on which the employee intends to begin the leave.
- The length of time that the employee plans to be off.
- The manner in which the employee proposes to take the leave.
- The employee’s signature.
As the employer, you can waive this notice requirement.
You are also entitled to request the employee to provide proof of parentage (in other words, a birth certificate or adoption order).
The parental leave request confirmation document
Once you agree on the leave, you must prepare a confirmation document. This document must include the following details:
- The date on which the leave will begin.
- The length of time that the employee will be on parental leave.
- The manner in which the employee takes the leave.
- The signatures of both the employer and the employee.
Illness of employee
If an employee falls ill while on parental leave and is unable to care for the child, the illness impacts the leave.
He or she may suspend their time away from work until they have fully recovered.
After this, he or she will resume their parental leave.
You may postpone the period of parental leave if the leave would have a substantial adverse effect on your business. Any such postponement must not exceed six months from the date previously agreed between you and the employee.
You must notify the employee, in writing, of the postponement at least four weeks before the proposed date that the parental leave was due to begin.
You must include the business reasons for postponement in the notice.
You may postpone the leave only once in respect of any particular child save in the following circumstances:
- If the reason for the postponement is due to seasonal variations in the volume of work. You may postpone the leave twice in respect of the same child.
- If the postponement results in the child concerned reaching the age threshold before the end of the leave. The employee still retains the entitlement to take the time off work.
Employees must use parental leave to take care of the child concerned. If you have grounds to believe it is being used for another purpose, you may be entitled to end the employee’s leave.
To do this you must:
- Notify the employee, in writing, of the intention to end the leave.
- Invite the employee to provide an explanation within seven days.
- If the explanation provided is unsatisfactory, you can end the period of parental leave. You must provide the employee with written notification of the reasons for termination.
The option to transfer parental leave is only available where both parents work for the same employer.
This is subject to the condition that each relevant parent retains at least four weeks of their individual time off. In other words, four weeks of the 18-week entitlement is non-transferable.
Return to work
An employee who has availed of his/her entitlement to parental leave may return to their position immediately. This position is the one that they held prior to the leave commencing.
The employee can resume employment under the same contract/terms and conditions of employment.
If the same position is not available, the returning employee must resume work on terms which are no less favourable.
Employees are also entitled to benefit from any improvement in terms and conditions of employment. This applies to any improvements introduced during their period of parental leave.
Statutory right to request flexible working
There is currently only one statutory right to request changes to working hours available to employees.
Employees returning from parental leave have the right to request flexible working. The employee must give you six weeks’ notice of his/her request to avail of a more flexible working pattern.
You must reply to requests for flexible working hours within four weeks of receipt of the request.
You are not obliged to accept the request for flexible working. However, you must support refusals with justifiable business reasons.
If you unreasonably refuse to vary working patterns, there is a risk of suffering a discrimination claim on the ground of family status.
Upcoming changes to parental leave entitlement Ireland
The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 was signed into law in May 2019. The main amendments to parental leave in Ireland include:
From 1 September 2020, employees are entitled to unpaid parental leave for a period of 26 weeks (up from 18 weeks).
Age limits are also increased. Employees can take unpaid parental leave until their child reaches the age of 12. Up from 8.
Paid parent’s leave Ireland: Budget 2019
As of November 2019, employees are entitled to paid parent’s leave. This is an entitlement for parents of very young children.
The government aim to introduce an incremental increase of up to seven weeks’ paid leave for parents of newborn children.
It was confirmed in Budget 2021 that parent’s leave will be increased to five weeks for parents of children under two years of age.
Family-friendly work environments
As the world of work continues to evolve, it is important that you know both your own rights as an employer and the rights of your employees.
This is certainly true when it comes to family-friendly working arrangements.
Cultural acceptance of flexible work practices is relatively weak in Ireland. However, sectors that encourage fair work-life balance policies experience notable increases in productivity.
The key is to put effective policies in place and to ensure that they are clearly communicated to your employees.
Clarify your rights as an employer by putting them down on paper.
This will reduce your exposure to parental leave law risks. It will also future proof your business for the road ahead.
To speak with one of our experts about putting bespoke employment policies in place for your business, call 0818 923 923.