A bill significantly extending the scope and duration of parental leave entitlements has passed the final stage in the Oireachtas and will shortly be signed into law.

Current position

The Parental Leave Acts 1998 and 2006 (the “Acts”), in their current form, entitle parents of children up to eight years of age (or up to sixteen years of age if the child has a disability or long-term illness) to up to eighteen weeks of parental leave in respect of each child. Generally speaking, a parent must be employed by his or her employer for one year before becoming entitled to parental leave and an employer may postpone the taking of parental leave for up to six months.

Proposed amendments

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 (the “Bill”) extends the entitlement of parents to parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks (six months) in respect of each child. Indeed, the additional 8 weeks provided for under the Bill will be made available to those parents who have already availed of some or all of the existing 18 week entitlement provided for by the Acts.

The Bill also proposes to increase the age of the child in respect of whom parental leave can be taken from eight years to twelve years.

The Government has indicated that the 8 week increase will be introduced on a phased basis, with an additional 4 weeks of leave available from September 2019 and a further 4 weeks of leave being introduced from September 2020.

Other developments

The Bill is consistent with a European wide initiative to modernise the existing EU legal framework in relation to work-life balance arrangements. A directive concerning work-life balance is currently progressing through the European legislative process, the objectives of which include improved work-life balance and an increased take-up of family-related leave and flexible working arrangements by men. In this regard, the Irish Government recently indicated its intention to introduce a “parental benefit” scheme by November of this year, providing for two weeks’ paid parental leave in the first year of a child’s life. Further detail on that proposal is available here.

Employers’ representatives have previously indicated that the changes made by the Bill will prove burdensome for employers, particularly small and medium enterprises. With the changes due to become effective three months after the passing of the Bill, employers would be well-advised to update their parental leave policies to ensure consistency with the new requirements.