The Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 (the “Act”) has been signed into law and will commence tomorrow, Thursday, 1 September 2016. Prior to the introduction of the Act, Ireland was one of the few countries in the European Union without statutory paternity leave entitlements. We take a look at the key provisions of the Act below.

What are eligible employees entitled to?

Eligible employees will be entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave to be taken in one continuous block following the birth or adoption of a child from 1 September 2016.

Subject to the employee having made the appropriate PRSI contributions, paternity benefit of €230 per week (the same rate of pay for statutory maternity benefit in Ireland) is payable by the Department of Social Protection for the paternity leave period. Paternity benefit is paid for two consecutive weeks and must be claimed within 26 weeks of the date of birth or day of placement (if the child is adopted).

In the case of multiple births, or where a person adopts two or more children at the same time, an employee shall only be entitled to one period of paternity leave in respect of the children concerned.

Who does the Act apply to?

The Act applies to an employee who is considered to be a “relevant parent,” on or after 1 September 2016.

A "relevant parent" includes:

  • the child’s father, or
  • the spouse / civil partner / cohabitant of the child’s mother, or
  • the child’s sole male adopter, or
  • either parent of a donor-conceived child.

Same sex couples jointly adopting a child must choose one parent to be the “relevant parent”.

How does an eligible employee avail of their entitlements?

Employees are required to give at least four weeks’ written notice to their employer before paternity leave can be taken. In the case of natural parents, a medical certificate setting out the expected date of birth must be provided to the employer at the time of notification or as soon as reasonably practicable afterwards. In the case of an adoption, the expected day of placement must be notified to the employer as soon as reasonably practicable and a copy of the certificate of placement must be provided to the employer no later than four weeks of the day of placement.

Applications for paternity benefit should be made to the Department of Social Protection at least four weeks before the commencement of paternity leave.

Postponement of paternity leave

If the date of placement or date of confinement occurs later than the date specified by the employee in the notice to his / her employer, the employee shall be entitled to select a later date for their paternity leave to commence.

Subject to the employee's compliance with the relevant notification requirements, where the employee becomes sick prior to taking his / her paternity leave, the employee shall be entitled to postpone the paternity leave until he / she is no longer sick. In addition, where the child to which the paternity leave relates is hospitalised, the employee can request that their paternity leave is postponed. If granted, the postponed leave is to be taken in one period commencing not later than seven days after the discharge of the child from hospital or such other date as may be agreed between the employee and the employer.

Preservation of rights

During paternity leave, the employee shall be deemed to have been in employment and his / her employment rights, other than the right to remuneration, will be protected during such leave as if the employee had been at work.

On the expiration of paternity leave, an employee is entitled to return to the same position held immediately before the commencement of the paternity leave, under terms and conditions no less favourable than the employee was subject to prior to his / her paternity leave, and that incorporate any improvement to which the employee would have been entitled if he or she had not been absent from work.

Similar to maternity protection legislation in Ireland, special protections also apply in relation to the voidance of any purported termination of employment or suspension from employment of an employee while the employee is on paternity leave.

Pay during paternity leave

There is no statutory obligation on employers to remunerate employees during their paternity leave.

However, it is advised that employers harmonise their maternity leave and paternity leave polices in order to reduce the risk of claims for discriminatory treatment. Therefore, where an employer is currently providing a top-up payment to an employee’s maternity benefit entitlement under the employer’s maternity leave policy, it is recommended that a top-up payment under the same terms and conditions is also provided for employees availing of paternity leave.

What does this mean for employers in Ireland?

In the first instance, employers should review and update their policies and procedures (and, if maternity or paternity rights are contained in their employment contracts, those contracts) to ensure that the new paternity rights are covered. A paternity leave policy should be put in place which sets out the scope of the benefit, the procedures that apply for employees who seek to avail of paternity leave, and any terms and conditions relating to top-up paternity pay (if any).