The issue of different types of family leave is one which employers have had to get to grips with over a number of years. Employers have to comply with the legal frameworks on leave, but also take a decision as to whether or not they should provide more favourable leave entitlements than is legally necessary. Guinness have decided to be trailblazers in this regard by offering fathers six months’ paid paternity leave in the workplace.

This move has been described as a game changer for workplace equality, and it is easy to see why. The entitlement to 26 weeks off on full pay means that fathers would be offered the same terms as those off on maternity leave. The move is set to come into place from 1 July this year. Guinness, which is owned by Diageo and part of a group which includes brands such as Baileys, Smirnoff and Tanqueray gin, employs 1,200 people across the island of Ireland. What is also of note is that the leave will apply regardless of how people become parents, i.e. whether through birth, adoption or surrogacy and will also apply to those who become parents regardless of gender or sexuality. This approach can be seen as particularly good from a diversity and inclusion perspective.

These internal policy changes have been made against a backdrop of generally more family friendly policies in Ireland and across Europe. It is notable that a new European Directive on work life balance has also been agreed upon which aims to encourage fathers to take up family leave and increase female participation in the labour market.

Now, new rules in respect of parental leave are also set to come into force this year in Ireland. Firstly, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 proposes to extend total unpaid parental leave entitlement to 26 weeks and increase the qualifying age for the child from 8 years to 12 years.

Secondly, the General Scheme of the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 (the “Scheme”) provides for two weeks of parental benefit (from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection – not from employers) per parent within the first 52 weeks of the birth of their child or, in the case of adoption, within 52 weeks of the date of placement. This is set to come into force from November this year and outlines an entitlement to parental social welfare benefit for workers for the first time in Ireland.

It will be interesting to see whether the move by Guinness will start a trend in Ireland for employers to provide paid contractual paternity leave on the same basis which they offer paid contractual maternity leave, if they offer either at all. Even more so, it will be of particular note to see what the level of participation will be by fathers in employment. The UK has had the notion of shared parental leave between both parents in the UK for a number of years now, but the level of fathers taking up a portion of the leave has not been particularly high. One reason for this was the perception which fathers had of the impact of taking the leave on their careers – something which mothers have had grapple with for many years.

Although it is likely that a social shift in attitudes will be required in order for the benefits of such policies to be felt, it is clear that having large employers like Guinness championing paternity leave can only be seen as a positive. Cheers to that!