The Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 provides each parent of a child under 12 months with the right to five weeks parent’s leave and for a corresponding social insurance benefit, called Parent’s Benefit. The new law will apply to parents of a child born or adopted from 1 November 2019. The Benefit will be paid at the same rate as Maternity and Paternity Benefits. The Act also allows for an increase in this leave to up to nine weeks in the future.

An employee who is a 'relevant parent' of a child under one will be entitled to the five weeks paid parent’s leave for a child born or placed for adoption on or after 1 November 2019. The ‘relevant parent’ is broadly defined as:  

  • a parent of the child;
  • a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the parent of the child;
  • a parent of a donor-conceived child; 
  • the adopting parent or parents of a child;
  • the spouse, civil partner or spouse of the adopting parent of the child; 
  • 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 is for a child born after 1 November 2019 and must be taken before the child is 12 months old. The Act outlines how the leave must be taken in different circumstances.  A mother must take maternity leave before taking parent’s leave and similarly an adopting parent must take adoptive leave before taking parent’s leave. For fathers, paternity and parent’s leave can be taken in either order. 

In a sensitive development, parents retain their entitlement to parent’s leave if the child dies while the parent is eligible for parent’s leave. This stands even if the employee has not given notice of the leave. In essence it provides two weeks leave for a parent on the death of their child under one year where parent's leave has not been taken.

Employees will be required to give six weeks’ notice to their employer, setting out the expected start date and the duration of the planned leave. If a child is born more than four weeks before the expected date of birth, the parent must give notice within seven days of the birth.  Similarly, if the date of placement of an adopted child is postponed or where the child’s birth occurs later, the parent can select another date, but must still comply with the sequencing of leaves (maternity or adoptive leave will always be taken first).

A parent may request the postponement of parent’s leave on the hospitalisation of the child, and then take any postponed leave within seven days of the child’s discharge from hospital or at an agreed date.

An employer may postpone the commencement of parent’s leave for up to 12 weeks where it would have a substantial adverse effect on the business. Reasons allowed include:

  • seasonal variations in the volume of work;
  • the unavailability of a replacement to carry out the employee’s work;
  • the nature of the employee’s duties;
  • the number of other employees also taking parent’s leave;
  • other relevant matters. 

All employment rights are protected while an employee is on parent’s leave. Absence on parent’s leave does not affect the employee’s rights other than to remuneration. A period of absence on parent’s leave cannot be treated as part of any other leave. An employer can suspend probation, training or an apprenticeship for the duration of parent’s leave. Employees are fully protected from penalisation, including dismissal, threat of dismissal, unfair treatment, unfavourable change in terms and conditions, for exercising the entitlement to parent’s leave.

Once the period of parent’s leave has ended, the employee has the right to return to their normal job and to terms and conditions that are no less favourable than those when the employee began the parent’s leave.

Where an employee is not permitted to return to work, the employee is deemed to have been dismissed by reason of redundancy and the provisions of the Redundancy Payments Acts apply. The employee will also be deemed to have been dismissed unfairly under the Unfair Dismissals Acts unless there are substantial grounds justifying the dismissal.

Disputes will be dealt with by the Workplace Relations Commission. An adjudication may grant the parent’s leave or award compensation not exceeding pay for the number of weeks of parent’s leave (two weeks initially).

The Act amends the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to add Parent’s Benefit to the list of insurance-based benefits and will be available to both employees and the self-employed. The relevant parent can qualify for parent’s benefit if they are an employed contributor and certified by the employer that they are entitled to parent’s leave, or is in insurable self-employment. A person who has satisfied the PRSI contribution conditions for Maternity/Paternity/Adoptive Benefit will be deemed to be eligible for Parent’s Benefit. 

The rate of Parent’s Benefit is €245 per week on 1 November 2019, equivalent to the Illness Benefit rate, and can be paid in a continuous period or in periods of one week. The relevant parent will not be entitled to claim Parent’s Benefit more than once where they have multiple births or adopt more than one child simultaneously.

Employers should update their maternity, paternity and adoptive leave policies to reference or incorporate parent’s leave entitlements or introduce a new policy. Where a salary top-up is provided during some or all the period of paid maternity, paternity and adoptive leave, employers should assess the options and implications of extending the top-up for the extra two weeks parent’s leave. 

The Act permits the Minister to increase parent’s leave to up to nine weeks, so the government is likely to adopt an incremental approach to extending this leave. This should be considered when establishing your policy.

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