The Government is expected to announce two week’s paid parental leave as part of Budget 2019. The new scheme will enable a mother and father to each take two weeks’ leave within 12 months of the birth of the child. The leave will not be paid by employers but will be paid by the State along the same lines as current maternity and paternity benefit.
It is envisaged that the new scheme will take some time to come on stream before it becomes fully operational. Therefore, it is unlikely to be in place until late 2019.
The new measures are part of the Government’s commitments to reduce the burden on working parents, particularly in the first 12 months, when it is difficult to secure childcare. In addition, it is intended to provide both parents with an equal opportunity to spend time with their new born child. It is envisaged that the scheme will increase over time to bring Ireland in line with other European countries such as Sweden and Finland, who provide up to 12 weeks, State funded, parental leave.
Full details of the measures have not been supplied however, it is expected that this scheme will run separately to current maternity leave and paternity leave provisions. It is also unclear whether the two week period will stand alone from current provisions regarding parental leave. At present, parents can avail of up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave until such time as the child reaches eight years of age or 16 years where the child has a disability or long term illness.
This latest scheme adds to a range of measures in relation to leave for working parents in recent years. In 2016, the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 introduced a two week statutory paternity leave period for fathers and those acting in loco parentis.
More recently, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 was passed through the Dáil and now goes before the Seanad to complete its passage into law. The Bill when acted will increase unpaid parental leave from 18 weeks up to 26 weeks. It will also increase the age requirement of the relevant child from 8 years up to the age of 12, so therefore lengthens the period of time in which parents can avail of parental leave.
Meanwhile last July, Fianna Fáil proposed a Private Member’s Bill which if passed will allow parents to share maternity leave between them. The Maternity Shared Leave and Benefit Bill 2018 seeks to amend the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004 and the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to make provision whereby parents can share their entitlement to maternity leave. The Bill is currently before Dáil Éireann, at first stage.
Employers should therefore expect more and more requests from parents seeking to take some form of unpaid leave. The key to dealing with such requests is to come to a mutually suitable arrangement which takes account of the employee’s requirements for leave and the employer’s business needs.