Maternity, Paternity, Parental, Parent’s and Adoptive Leave – what are employees entitled to?

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There was focus on the topic of maternity leave again last week as the Government rushed to find a solution to avoid the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee having to resign temporarily once she has her first child in May. With just a number of weeks to go, a solution was found with another Minister taking over her responsibilities so she could take six months paid maternity leave.

This week, Derek McKay, Managing Director at Adare Human Resource Management looks at the current provisions for various leave options for parents, including maternity, paternity, parental and parent’s leave as well as adoptive leave.

Maternity leave

All female employees are entitled to avail of up to 26 weeks maternity leave. This has increased over the last couple of years from 18 weeks pre-September 2019. And in addition, female employees can take up to 16 weeks additional unpaid leave and if the employee is availing of this additional leave, it must be taken immediately following maternity leave.

Some additional entitlements under the Maternity Protection Acts, 1994 – 2004, including time off for antenatal care and classes and post-natal care for both parents, father’s leave if the mother dies, time off from work or reduced working hours to allow breastfeeding, protection of certain employment rights, the right to return to work after taking the leave, protection against dismissal and a mechanism for resolving disputes and appeals about entitlements are contained within  the Act.

There is no obligation on an employer to pay an employee during her maternity leave. However, an employee may be entitled to claim maternity benefit during the initial 26-week period of ordinary maternity leave, subject to her meeting certain eligibility criteria as determined by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In some cases, an employer may pay an employee while on maternity leave and require her to have any Maternity Benefit paid to them.  

Even where an employee does not meet the qualification criteria, she should still enquire with the Department to clarify if PRSI contributions can be maintained during the period of absence and if so a form may have to be completed by her employer.

Paternity leave

Under the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 an employee who is a “relevant parent” is entitled to two weeks leave from work to enable him or her to provide care to the child or to provide support to the relevant adopting parent or mother of the child. The leave can be taken anytime in the first six months after birth or date of adoption.

As with maternity leave, employers do not have to pay an employee during paternity leave. However, an employee can apply for Paternity Benefit and, as with Maternity Benefit, through the Department of Social Protection.

Parental leave

Employees are also entitled to parental leave, which entitles parents to take up to 26 weeks unpaid leave from work; this increased from 22 weeks pre-September 2020. Parental leave can be taken in respect of a child under the age of 12 years and must be used for the purposes of caring for the child for whom the leave is taken. An employee who uses this leave for something other than caring responsibilities may be subject to disciplinary actions by their employer.  

An employee looking to take parental leave must submit their request to their employer at least six weeks ahead of the date that they wish to start the leave. The employer must respond to the request at least four weeks ahead of the commencement date and can only postpone leave, for up to six months, on one occasion; there are some exceptions such as businesses that are seasonal in nature.

Parent’s leave

Last December, Government approved the extension of paid Parent’s Leave to include an additional three weeks for parents after a child’s birth or adoption bringing the leave up to five paid weeks, which can be taken anytime in the first two years of the child’s life or adoption date, rather than one-year previously. It is important to note that this change only applies to parents whose child was born on or after 1st November 2019.

The increase is expected to take effect from April 2021 and will apply retrospectively, giving parents who have already taken two weeks’ parent’s leave an extra three weeks in 2021.

Adoptive leave

Under Adoptive Leave, an adopting mother or sole male adoptive parent who is in employment is entitled to 24 weeks of adoptive leave from work beginning on the day of the child’s placement, for which they can receive a social welfare payment. And, up to an additional 16 weeks leave, which is not covered.

Any employee involved in the adoption process is entitled to paid time off for pre-adoption classes and meetings that they are obliged to attend, provided the meetings take place in Ireland. For those adopting outside the state, an adopting mother or sole adopting male can avail of some or all of their 16-week entitlement before the placement of the child.

Protections during maternity, paternity & parental leave

During a period of maternity, paternity or parental leave, an employee is still deemed to be in the employment of the employer and must be treated as if he or she had not been absent from work. Availing of these leave options should not affect any right related to the employment, other than the right to remuneration during the absence. 

The legislation contains protections from penalisation for taking paternity leave and preservation of employment rights while on paternity leave. The legislation contains provisions such as the voidance of termination or notice of termination of a relevant parent while they are on maternity, paternity or parental leave or the suspension of an employee while on leave.

Summary chart

Leave Who can avail of it Length & Paid/ Unpaid
Maternity Leave Female employees    26 weeks – yes, Maternity Benefit paid

   16 weeks – unpaid

Paternity Leave Parents of a child under 6 months but not the mother of the child    2 weeks – yes, Paternity Benefit paid
Parental Leave Parents and guardians of children under 12 years    26 weeks – unpaid
Parent’s Leave Currently parents of children under 1 year with expected increase to 2 years in April 2021    2 weeks currently – yes, Parent’s Benefit paid

   Expected increase to 5 weeks from April 2021

Adoptive Leave Adoptive mothers, men adopting on their own    24 weeks – yes, Adoptive Benefit paid

   16 weeks – unpaid


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