As Ireland prepares for the provision of paternity leave as a legal, statutory right through legislative change, we look at the practical implications its introduction is likely to have on Irish employers. We also consider the Taoiseach’s announcement last week of a proposed scheme for shared parental leave, and additional parental leave.

Introduction of Paternity Leave in Ireland

Recent steps towards the recognition of paternity leave as a legal right in Ireland, and recent announcements by the government confirming imminent legislative change indicate the government’s commitment to this area. When announcing the proposals for the introduction of paternity leave last year, Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, heralded the introduction of paternity leave as having positive effects for gender equality, which would enable fathers to spend time caring for and being with their children and families.

Shared Parental Leave & Extra Parental Leave

In addition to the introduction of paternity leave, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed last Friday (10 June 2016), that an extra two weeks of parental leave is expected to be introduced in September, with legislation to be approved by Cabinet this week. This means that there will be two separate schemes rolled out to give parents more time off after the arrival of a baby. The Taoiseach also announced plans included in next year's Budget to introduce a further two years of shared parental leave, which can be availed of by fathers and mothers.

For many companies, a shared parental leave policy, similar to that adopted in Scandinavia and in the UK, as mentioned by the Taoiseach last week, is preferable as this would encourage new parents to share the responsibility of rearing their child and this might facilitate mothers to return to work at an earlier stage. This might create a knock-on effect of greater equality between men and women in the workplace.

The Impact of Paternity Leave on Irish Employers

The proposed changes that came with Budget 2016 propose the provision of two weeks of paternity leave to be granted and paid at a rate of €230 per week, subject to the father having made suitable PRSI contributions prior to the leave period. This will apply only to fathers of children born after 1 September 2016. The two weeks’ leave may be taken at any stage of the first 26 weeks following the birth of the child.

Similar to maternity leave, an employer may decide to pay an employee during the two week period, however they are not required to do so. The difficulties that small to medium size companies will face in “topping up” paternity leave will undoubtedly have an impact on recruitment for these companies. The changing landscape of alternative “benefits”-focused employment is attracting talent to larger companies promising above the statutory minimum. However, the introduction of these measures on a statutory basis arguably assists those small to medium size companies in at least “stepping up to the plate” in terms of benefits on offer to their employees.

Once paternity leave becomes a statutory right over the coming months, it would be advisable for employers to treat those employees availing of paternity leave in an equal manner to those taking maternity or adoptive leave. It is highly recommended that employers draft up a policy covering paternity leave stating how it may be applied for, whether it will be “topped up” by the employer and any other relevant provisions.