Gender equality may be a core EU principle, but it will not become a reality without effective legal action. To meet the EU objective of reaching a 75% employment rate for both men and women by 2020, the European Commission aims to change the existing legal framework.
Thus, the European Commission has proposed to implement a directive on work-life balance for parents and carers and repeal the EU Parental Leave Directive (2010/18/EU). The proposed directive aims to increase the number of dual-earning families and help women return to work, while also requiring more flexibility from employers regarding employment types. Employers may benefit from certain flexible working schemes, although they may need to adjust to the new types of leave.
Should the proposed directive enter into force, it will set minimum standards for EU member states regarding parental and carer's leave. Thus, members states will have to harmonise their rules and implement new types of leave. This article summarises the main provisions of the proposed directive and its potential impact on the existing Hungarian framework.
Comparison of proposed directive and national law
The proposed directive will introduce paternity leave as a new legal instrument. Fathers will be allowed to take at least 10 days' paternity leave regardless of their marital or family status as defined in national law.
Under the existing Hungarian regulations, fathers are granted five days' paid leave or seven days in the case of twins. Paternity leave will therefore not be a new legal instrument in Hungary, although it may need to be increased.
Workers are already entitled to parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child under the EU Parental Leave Directive. However, although parental leave exists in all EU member states in some form, the proposed directive aims to harmonise it by, among other things, establishing a minimum period of four months, which cannot be transferred between parents. Each member state must ensure that workers may request parental leave on a part-time basis, in blocks separated by work periods or in other flexible forms.
In Hungary, parents are entitled to unpaid leave until their child turns three years old, which is a relatively long time. Hungarian law does not recognise flexible forms of parental leave, so some changes in this area are expected.
The proposed directive introduces carer's leave, requiring employers to grant employees five working days' paid leave a year in the event of a relative's serious illness or dependency. Employers will be able to require appropriate substantiation of the relative's medical condition.
In Hungary, employees can take carer's leave, although this is usually unpaid. The Hungarian regulation is more lenient than the proposed directive in this regard, as Hungarian employees are entitled to two years' unpaid carer's leave. In Hungary, the extended care and its justification must be certified by the physician of the person in need of care. As a result, the Hungarian rules correspond to the provisions of the proposed directive.
Time off on grounds of force majeure
The proposed directive maintains the rules in relation to the existing right to take time off work in the case of an event of force majeure. Member states have had to grant this allowance to their workers since the EU Parental Leave Directive's implementation, so no changes to Hungarian law are envisaged.
Flexible working arrangements
Under the EU Parental Leave Directive, member states had to implement rules which allowed employees to request changes to their working hours or patterns when returning from parental leave. The proposed directive aims to maintain the possibility of flexible working arrangements and extend their scope. Employees may agree with their employer on remote working arrangements, flexible working schedules or a reduction of working time. Member states will thus have to ensure that these opportunities are provided for in national legislation until employees' children turn 12 years old. Once their child turns 12 years old, an employee must return to their original working pattern.
The Hungarian Labour Code allows employees to work part-time (half of their regular daily working hours) until their child turns three years old. For parents with three or more children, the age limit is five years old. If the proposed directive enters into force in its current form, the Hungarian legislation will need to be harmonised with the directive to allow returning employees to choose between working part-time, remotely or according to a flexible schedule.
The proposed directive will bring about considerable change for the Hungarian employment and social systems. After its entry into force, Hungary will have two years to harmonise its laws with the adopted rules. Continued social dialogue will be required in the long term, as the directive will affect cost-sharing between employers and the Hungarian state. With state social budgets under pressure, it will be interesting to see how the costs of new or additional benefits will be met and whether these measures will indeed improve employee wellbeing and work-life balance.