This summer we saw the introduction of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act, 2019 which extended unpaid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks and a further extension to 26 weeks' parental leave by 2020.
This week, the Government published the new Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019. This Bill is expected to be enacted on or before 1 November 2019.
Paid parent's leave
As detailed in our previous client alerts in June 2018 and May 2019 the 2019 Bill builds on existing statutory entitlements to paid maternity, paternity and adoptive leave. The 2019 Bill introduces the concept of paid parent's leave for employees in Ireland for the first time. Subject to an employee having made the requisite PRSI contributions, a relevant parent will be entitled to take two weeks' parent's leave within the first 52 weeks of a child's birth. This will be paid by the State at the same rate as the current State Illness Benefit (€245 per week) – i.e. the parent's benefit. Significantly, the Bill does not oblige employers to pay employees while on parent's leave. It will be up to each employer to decide whether they wish to top up an employee's parent's benefit and, if so, by how much.
Key provisions of the 2019 Bill
- All relevant parents will be entitled to this leave. This includes:
- parent of a child, a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the parent of a child
- a parent of a donor-conceived child
- adopting parent or parents of a child
- the spouse, civil partner or spouse of the adopting parent of the child and each member of a married couple of the same sex, a couple that are civil partners of each other, or a cohabiting couple of the same sex.
- Parent's leave can only be taken within the first 52 weeks of the child's birth or the day of placement of adoption
- Parent's leave can be taken in a continuous period of two weeks or in separate blocks of one week each
- An employee will be required to give six weeks' notice to his/her employer, setting out the expected date on which the leave will begin and the duration of the planned leave.
- A parent will not be entitled to claim parent's benefit more than once where he/she has multiple births or adopts more than one child simultaneously
- Parent's leave cannot be transferred between parents other than in specified circumstances such as the death of a parent
- Employers are entitled to postpone the commencement of parent's leave where taking the leave would have a substantial adverse effect on the operation of the employer's business. For example, seasonal variations in the volume of work concerned and the number of other employees also taking parent's leave. Employers cannot postpone the leave for more than 12 weeks
- Absence on parent's leave will not affect the employee's rights (other than the right to remuneration)
- Employees are entitled to protection from penalisation, including dismissal, unfair treatment for exercising their entitlement to parent's leave. The employee has an entitlement to return to his/her normal job and to the same terms and conditions of employment before they commenced the parent's leave
- The Workplace Relations Commission can order the granting of the parent's leave and/or compensation of up to two weeks' remuneration where there is a breach. For example, where an employee postpones an employee's parent's leave but doesn’t permit them to take it within 12 weeks
What is the difference between Parental Leave and Parent's Leave?
Earlier versions of the Bill referred to this new paid leave as Parental Leave & Benefit. The newly published 2019 Bill has changed the name to Parent's Leave & Benefit. The intention of this amendment is to distinguish parent's leave from parental leave which is a separate and distinct entitlement under the Parental Leave Acts 1998 – 2019.
Parental leave in Ireland remains an unpaid entitlement for employees and further details on the introduction of the extended periods of parental leave are outlined in our client alert here.
It should also be noted that parent's leave is separate and distinct to the two weeks' paid paternity leave entitlement introduced via the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016.
What should employers be doing?
Employers should update their employment handbooks and family leave policies to cater for this new statutory leave. A key decision for employers will be whether they top up employee's State parent’s benefit. In practice, we expect many employers will mirror the position they adopted in respect of topping up paid paternity leave. Employers will also need to outline the application/notification process and employee's statutory rights while on parent’s leave. In circumstances where an employer needs to postpone the commencement of an employee’s parent’s leave, employers would be well advised to consult with the employee prior to confirming the postponement in writing.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection commented that "in both 2017 and 2018 almost 25,000 new fathers availed of the newly established 2 week paid Paternity Leave scheme" and that he hopes that "all new parents would avail of this new scheme (parent's leave) once it is established". He further stated that the parent's benefit payment "is in addition to existing maternity, paternity and adoptive leave entitlements. It will provide working parents with a further opportunity to spend more time with their new baby during its first year which is of particular importance."
We expect the Minister's aspiration will become a reality once this new statutory leave is introduced. We recommend employers familiarise themselves with the Bill now and take appropriate measures to ensure they are ready to process parent's leave applications if they are received in the coming weeks.
To read the Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019, please click here.