The Dáil has passed the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill, which gives fathers in Ireland, for the very first time, the benefit of two weeks' paid paternity leave starting from September 2016. So what does this mean for your organisation and what do you need to do to prepare?

Under the legislation, fathers will be able to apply for two weeks’ leave in respect of births from 1 September 2016. The leave will have to be taken within 26 weeks of the birth of the child, with employers being given four weeks’ notice in writing.

The benefit will be paid by the Department of Social Protection at a rate of €230 per week, the same as maternity benefit, and will based on the same PRSI contribution requirements.

What to include

We would encourage members to draw up a paternity leave and benefit policy for their organisation which clearly outlines the key pieces of information from the legislation and the process for applying for the leave. Here are some suggestions for inclusion in your policy.
  • The policy should clarify that the leave is granted to employees to allow them 10 days off to be taken within 26 weeks of the birth of the child.
  • Other than certain circumstances outlined in the legislation, the leave will comprise a single period of two weeks.
  • The policy should specify when the leave can be taken, and this will need to comply with the legislation.
  • While four weeks’ notice of intention is required to avail of the leave, there is provision within the legislation for leave at short notice such as premature births. This should also be included in your policy.
  • The benefit will also be available to fathers who are adopting a child and same sex couples and an organisation's policy on paternity leave should reflect this.
  • The policy should clarify the internal process for applying for paternity leave, the paperwork to be completed and relevant deadlines. 
  • The policy should specify if the organisation is going to provide a top-up payment which would reduce the gap between the social welfare payment and the employee’s normal weekly pay and if so, by how much and under what conditions. For example many women must meet a service requirement (for example, already working with the employer for 24 or 36 months) to get a maternity top-up payment and consideration should be given to adopting similar requirements for male employees to get the benefit of a top-up payment.
  • While an employee is on paternity leave, the employee shall be considered to have been in the employment of the employer and be treated as if they had not been absent. Paternity leave will not affect any right related to the employee’s employment other than their right to remuneration during paternity leave.

Paternity leave will bring some additional costs to organisations, in terms of the time out of the workplace and the administration. Research indicates that many employers in Ireland provide a maternity leave top-up payment, whereby a company makes a contribution to cover the difference between the State payment and the woman’s normal pay, especially large and public sector employers. From an equality and equity perspective, organisations now need to consider a similar approach for male employees in receipt of the State paternity benefit. This will result in an added payroll cost.

This is a positive development as Ireland has been way behind on paternity leave entitlements. This will bring us in line with the minimum in many countries around Europe. CIPD Ireland believes that this is only a starting point to support a more equitable sharing of parental caring duties as well as recognising the needs and demands of modern family life. The legislation is a first step to support fathers to take a more direct caring role during those crucial first few months of a child’s life, and its take-up should be encouraged by organisations.

We would encourage organisations to review all leave and working hours policies and see where there may be scope to increase flexible options for employees to support caring responsibilities and boost engagement and retention.

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