The Paternity Leave and Benefit Act (the "Act") commenced on 1 September 2016. It provides for two weeks paternity leave for relevant parents and applies to all births or adoptions which occur after that date.  Prior to its enactment, Ireland was one of the few European countries not to provide, on a statutory basis, for paternity leave entitlements.

In this article, we review the key provisions of the new Act and outline the key points relevant to you and your organisation.

Who is eligible?

The entitlement to avail of paternity leave is not confined to biological fathers and the term "relevant parent" includes adoption situations and civil partners and cohabitants of the mother of the child.

Purpose of the leave

The purpose of the leave is to enable the "relevant parent" to provide or assist in the provision of care to the child and to provide support to the mother of the child or the relevant adopting parent.  A key requirement is that the leave must be used to take care of the child to which the leave relates. If it transpires that the leave is being used for any other purpose, the employer can terminate the leave on the giving of written notice.

Key Entitlements 

The Act provides that a relevant parent is entitled to 2 continuous weeks’ paternity leave which can be taken any time between the date of confinement i.e. birth or date of placement in adoption situations and up to 26 weeks after such date.  

Relevant parents are also entitled to paternity benefit which is currently at the rate of €235 per week and is subject to a person having the appropriate PRSI contributions. Relevant parents who are in insurable self-employment are also entitled to this benefit. 

Similar to maternity and adoptive leave, the Act provides that the rights of the employee taking paternity leave shall be preserved during the period of leave. Upon return to work following paternity leave, employees are entitled to return to the same position held immediately prior to taking paternity leave under terms or conditions no less favourable than those that would have been applicable to the employee and that incorporate any improvement in said terms and conditions that the employee would have been entitled to had he or she not been absent from work. Additionally any purported termination of employment while the employee is absent on paternity leave shall be void. The Act also prohibits the penalisation of an employee for having exercised their rights to take paternity leave.

Disputes relating to any entitlement of an employee under the Act can be referred to the Workplace Relations Commission.  Upon hearing such a complaint, an adjudication officer may order the granting of the leave and an award of compensation not exceeding two weeks’ remuneration, or both.

How can an employee apply

In order to avail of paternity leave, the employee must notify their employer in writing of their intention to take paternity leave.  Notification should be as soon as reasonably practicable, but not later than 4 weeks before the expected week of confinement of the expectant mother concerned or the expected day of placement in adoption cases.  

Next Steps – for Employers 

Employers should consider putting a paternity leave policy in place or revising current policies and procedures to make provision for paternity leave.  The Act does not require employers to pay employees while they are on paternity leave, but employers can top-up paternity benefit if they wish. Some employers have queried whether it is discriminatory to refuse to pay employees on paternity leave when the employer pays employees on maternity leave and if that is a concern for you then you can contact us to discuss the matter further.