Parental Leave in Ireland increased from 14 to 18 weeks and is available to each parent per child as a result of the coming into operation of the European Union (Parental Leave) Regulations 2013 on 8 March 2013. The purpose of these Regulations is to transpose EU Council Directive 2010/18/EU into domestic law: the Directive concerned implements a revised framework on parental leave. The impetus for the Directive was motivated by considerations of gender equality, a need to diversify the composition of the workforce, progress on reconciliation of work/life balance and so called “flexicurity”. The Regulations amend the Parental Leave Act 1998 and the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2006.

In general, parental leave can be taken before a child reaches the age of eight. Where a child has a disability parental leave may be taken until the child reaches 16 or the disability ceases (whichever first occurs). The new Regulations extend the age limit for a child in respect of which such leave can be taken to 16 years in the case of a child with a long-term illness.

The current entitlement to parental leave amounts to a total of 18 working weeks per child however in general parental leave is limited to a maximum of 18 weeks in a 12 month period even where a qualifying employee had more than one child. This can of course be adjusted in the context of agreement between employer and employee.

The entitlement to take parental leave accrues to each parent. There is no general right to transfer parental leave from one parent to another except where both parents work for the same employer. In such circumstances and where the employer agrees a parent may transfer 14 weeks of his or her parental leave entitlement to the other.

Parental leave is unpaid and individuals invoking their entitlement will not be in a position to avail of social welfare payment during the leave period. An employer must update the records section of the Department of Social Protection however, to enable an employee availing of parental leave to get credited PRSI contributions.

In general an employee must have been working for a period of one year before he or she would be entitled to avail of parental leave. Where the employee concerned has more than three months but less than one year it is possible to avail of a pro rata entitlement. This will amount to 1 week parental leave for every month of employment.

Parental leave cannot be refused except on eligibility grounds however an employer may postpone parental leave for up to 6 months. If the entitlement is invoked parental leave is to be used to take care of the child concerned.

Employees availing of parental leave are entitled to return to his or her job after the period of leave unless it is not practicable for the employer to enable a return to the old job in which case suitable alternative employment on terms no less favourable must be offered.

As a result of the introduction of the EU (Parental Leave) Regulations 2013 employees are entitled on a return from parental leave to request a change in their working hours or working patterns for a prescribed period of time. An employer is not required to grant this request but must consider it mindful of the needs of both employer and employee. An employer will be required to inform the employee if the request is refused or arrange for a written agreement confirming the proposed changes, commencement and duration if the request is acceded to. The regulations do not prescribe the duration of any such changes agreed.

Melanie Evans is a solicitor in the firm FitzGerald Solicitors practising in Employment Law and Commercial Conveyancing for Banks and Receivers. FitzGerald Solicitors is located at 6 Lapps Quay, Cork.

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