The signing of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 on 22 May 2019 is the beginning of a series of changes to parental leave legislation which will significantly enhance working parents' leave entitlements.
The second bill, the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 is expected to move quickly through the Houses of the Oireachtas in order for the scheme to be available in November 2019, as announced by Minister Regina Doherty in April.
The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019
This Act, which was signed into law on 22 May, introduces an additional 8 weeks' parental leave per parent per child on a phased basis bringing the total amount of parental leave to 26 weeks. Current leave entitlement is 18 weeks which is the minimum allowable under EU law. An additional four weeks will be available from September this year and a further four weeks from September 2020. A parent will also be able to avail of the leave up until a child is 12 years of age (currently it is 8 unless a child is disabled or suffering from a long term illness in which case it is 16 years of age). Employers will have to keep a record of parental leave for 12 years or until the child for whom the leave is taken reaches 12, whichever is the sooner. The Act is expected to be commenced by statutory instrument prior to the Summer recess.
The Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019
The General Scheme of the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill proposes 2 weeks' paid parental leave in the first year following the birth of a child. This will be extended to 7 weeks by 2021. It will be paid at the current statutory rate of €245 per week, subject to PRSI contributions. This is similar to the current maternity, adoptive and paternity leave rates. The catalyst for this Bill is to encourage more fathers to avail of parental leave as studies show they have been slow to avail of existing leave entitlements. The leave will be non-transferable between parents. Similar to maternity pay, it is up to employers whether they want to "top up" the benefit to meet an employee's existing salary. The Government hopes that by incentivising fathers to take parental leave that it will contribute towards changing the existing culture on work, gender and the responsibilities of childcare.
Future Developments at EU level
At EU level there are also additional proposals afoot which will further impact parental leave entitlements. The EU Parliament has recently approved a proposal for an EU Directive on work life balance for parents and carers. It proposes to introduce new rights regards parental leave, puts paternity and carer's leave on an EU footing and extends the scope of flexible working for those returning from parental leave (by adding in the option of remote working). Currently employees here can request a change to their working hours/patterns for a period upon their return. Employers must consider this request but do not have to grant it. It also proposes to introduce more flexibility as to how parental leave may be taken (ie they should be able to take it in a more piece meal fashion rather than the existing blocks of 6 weeks).
Parents will undoubtedly welcome, in principle, the additional leave entitlements. Whether it results in an increased uptake of leave remains to be seen. The new provisions will impact employers from an administrative and human resources planning perspective. In preparation for the new legislation, employers should take steps to ensure their leave policies reflect the forthcoming changes.