The parental leave entitlement has been extended to 26 weeks with effect from 1 September 2020. Here is what employers need to know.
Since our last briefing on this topic, The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 came into force on 19 July 2019, introducing a number of amendments to the Parental Leave entitlement under the Parental Leave Acts 1998 to 2019 (the “Acts”). Previously, the Acts entitled parents to take Parental Leave for up to 18 weeks. The 2019 Act extended this entitlement for a further 8 weeks, albeit on a phased basis. The first 4 week extension took effect from 1 September 2019, entitling parents to 22 weeks of parental leave. With effect from 1 September 2020, parents are now entitled to 26 weeks of leave in total. The 2019 Act also increased the age of the child in respect of whom parental leave can be taken from eight years to twelve years.
What does this mean for employers?
Employee parents are now entitled, on giving at least 6 weeks’ notice to their employer, to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave from work to spend time looking after their children. In general, to be eligible for such leave an employee must have been working for the employer for at least a year to get the full amount of the Parental Leave. The leave can be taken in respect of children up to twelve years of age (or up to sixteen years of age if the child has a disability or long-term illness); it is a separate entitlement in respect of each child. These additional weeks are available to parents who have already availed of some or all of the pre-existing 22 week entitlement.
Employers should make sure that their organisation’s policies in respect of leave entitlement are updated to reflect the extended period of Parental Leave.
While largely welcomed, the recent changes brought about by the 2019 Act might not be welcome by everyone. Employers’ representatives have previously indicated that the changes will prove burdensome for employers, particularly small and medium enterprises, for instance because of the absence of expertise, loss of productivity, recruitment and training costs and administration.
These recent changes to the parental leave entitlement are also consistent with a European wide initiative to modernise the existing EU legal framework in relation to work-life balance arrangements. This initiative aims to enable parents and people with caring responsibilities to better balance their work and family lives and to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men. This initiative culminated in the adoption of the Work-Life Balance Directive in June of last year. While Ireland is largely compliant with the Directive, certain of its provisions remain to be implemented, such as the right to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes.
Further, the Government has recently committed in its Programme for Government to “enable increased remote, flexible and hub-working arrangements to promote better work-life balance, higher female-labour-market participation, less commuting, and greater regional balance”. For a summary of the main takeaway points from the Programme for Government, see our recent briefing here.
Employers should also keep abreast of potential changes to Parent’s Leave which currently entitles ‘relevant parents’ to 2 weeks’ leave during the first year of a child’s life, or in the case of adoption, within one year of the placement of the child with the family, during which time state Parent’s Benefit is available. The Government has recently announced that changes may be introduced to Parent’s Leave in Budget 2021. The proposed changes include:
- the possible extension of paid Parent’s Leave and Benefit from two to five weeks (constituting an additional three weeks per parent) for all parents of children born or adopted on after 1 November 2019; and
- the possible extension of the period in which the leave can be taken, allowing the leave to be taken in the first two years’ of a child’s life rather than only the first year.