The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 is due to come into effect from 1 September 2019.

This legislation extends the period of unpaid parental leave, increases the age of the child, and provides for parents who have already taken parental leave, to receive the additional eight weeks of leave. The main points of the Act are that:

  • From 1 September 2019, a parent will be able to take up to 22 working weeks of unpaid parental leave, an extra four weeks on top of the current 18 weeks
  • From 1 September 2020, a parent will be able to take up to 26 working weeks of unpaid parental leave, a further four week extension
  • The age of a qualifying child increases from 8 years to reaching the age of 12 years
  • Any parent who has already availed of their current entitlement of 18 weeks will be entitled to avail of a further eight weeks of parental leave.

From November 2019, the government proposes to make paid parental leave available to new parents in employment or self-employment, on top of existing maternity, paternity, unpaid parental leave and adoptive leave entitlements. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan published the general scheme of the proposed legislation to outline the arrangements to provide the benefit from November 2019 in the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019.

Summary of Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 

The Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 is the most recent effort by the government to deliver on its commitment to increase paid parental leave in the first year of a child’s life. The Government estimates that up to 60,000 parents could benefit from the scheme in a full year.

Eligibility

Each parent of a child born on or after 1 November 2019 will be entitled to take an individual period of paid parental leave once they have been with their employer for a year. An employee on parental leave will be treated as if they were still in employment and their absence will not affect their rights or entitlements. The leave cannot be transferred between parents and provision is made for adoption and same-sex couples.

Duration 

The proposed leave will initially be for two weeks per parent and must be taken within 52 weeks of the birth of the child, or in the case of adoption, the date of placement of the child. The leave must be taken in periods of not less than one week in duration. The government proposes to increase paid parental leave to seven weeks for each parent by 2021.

Application

Written notification must be provided by the employee to the employer to take parental leave. This notification should be given to the employer as soon as is reasonably practicable, but not later than four weeks before the leave commences. There is no discretion on the timing of the leave for the employer. A notification to take parental leave may be withdrawn in writing by the employee and a four week notification period would again apply.  However where an employee postpones the leave, they simply provide the alternative dates, with no specific notice requirement.

A lot of complexity is proposed in the legislation as it outlines separate rules to manage:

  • Commencement of parental leave in the case of early confinement
  • Postponement of parental leave 
  • Postponement of parental leave in event of sickness of relevant parent
  • Postponement of parental leave in event of hospitalisation of child
  • Entitlement of employed surviving parent to parental leave on death of their partner
  • Entitlement to leave on the death of a child
  • Entitlement to parental leave beyond 52 weeks

While these are necessary scenarios to deal with, the differing rules and lack of a requirement to engage with the employer will make this leave very difficult to plan for and manage in the workplace.

Payment

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will make the accompanying Parental Benefit payment of €245 per week. The legislation will lay out the rules of entitlement with regard to Parental Benefit payments, a benefit that will not be transferable in any part between parents.

Increased potential for confusion in area of family-friendly benefits

While CIPD Ireland welcomes initiatives that provide for increased flexibility in the workplace there is potential for confusion as this is another type of leave that will be allowed for, with the system allowing for paid and unpaid maternity and adoptive leaves, unpaid parental leave, paid paternity leave and now paid parental leave. With each leave type having separate application procedures and rules governing approval, it will take a lot of effort to ensure employers fully understand their obligations, and employees understand their rights.  

This complexity and confusion will also mitigate against real flexibility for parents, as a real benefit of the current unpaid parental leave is the capacity for many parents to opt for a shorter working week, and spread the financial cost over a longer period. The complexity an variation will make it more difficult for managers and HR to be able to support parents at work.

What can employers do to prepare for the new scheme? 

Although parental benefit will be paid by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Bill will put pressure on employers to top-up pay, and will be particularly burdensome for small and medium enterprises. This is likely to be heightened as the period of leave increases up to seven weeks by 2021. Companies will need to consider this in light of their current practice of topping-up maternity, adoptive or paternity leave, to ensure there is no gender bias. 

Procedures should be reviewed to ensure that an appropriate system is in place to assess the implications and manage the workforce planning and the administrative impact of managing this leave. 

Although the Bill is at an early stage, it is a stated Government priority with the Department wanting to ensure that the new paid parental leave scheme will be operational from November 2019. CIPD Ireland is encouraging employers to understand the proposals, express their concerns and start preparing now for the introduction of this new leave