On the 8th March 2013 the European Union (Parental Leave) Regulations 2013 (“the Regulation”) was signed into law. The regulation gives effect to Council Directive 2010/18/EU (“the Directive”).
The Parental Leave Act, 1988 and the Parental Leave Amendment Act, 2006 (“the Parental Leave Acts”) confer an entitlement to unpaid, parental leave and “force majeure “ leave on qualifying employees. The Regulation has introduced a number of changes and the current position on parental leave is outlined below.
Parents may take parental leave from their employment in respect of a child up to 8 years of age or in a case of a child with a disability or long term illness up to 16 years of age. If a child was adopted between the ages of 6 and 8, parental leave in respect of that child may be taken up to two years after the adoption order. The total parental leave allowed for each child is now 18 working weeks. Where an employee has more than one child the maximum parental leave allowable is 18 weeks, unless they are children of a multiple birth.
Parental leave is available to employees with one year continuous service with the employer from whom the leave is taken. This now includes part-time and fixed term employees. Where an employee’s child is near the age threshold but they have not completed one year continuous service, provided they have been working for the employer for more than three months, they are entitled to pro rata parental leave, of one week for each month of continuous employment. If both parents work for the same employer, it is possible subject to the consent of the employer, to transfer no more than 14 weeks of the parental leave to the other parent.
The leave may be taken as a continuous period of 18 weeks or two blocks of a minimum of six weeks. There must be ten weeks between each block of leave, unless the employer agrees otherwise. The leave may be separated into periods of days or hours, should the employer agree to do so. The employer is not required to pay the employee during the leave.
An employee who wishes to take parental leave must give notice in writing to the employer not later than six weeks before the intended period of leave specifying the date it is to begin, the duration, and the manner in which it is to be taken. Not less than four weeks before the leave is to be taken the employer is required to prepare and sign a confirmation document of the leave with the employee. The employer may postpone parental leave for no more than six months, where the taking of parental leave would have a substantial adverse effect on the business. Postponed leave will be deferred to a later date at which the employee is then entitled to take it. The parental leave must be used to take care of the child concerned. If the employer has reasonable grounds to believe it is not being used to take care of the child, the leave may be withdrawn by notice in writing to the employee.
The Regulation allows for a request for a change to working hours or patterns when returning from parental leave, for a set period of time. Notice of the intention to apply for a change must be given in writing to the employer, not less than six weeks before the proposed changes. The employer must consider the request within four weeks of receipt and inform the employee whether the change is refused or agreed. If agreed, an agreement must be prepared by the employer and signed with the employee. An employee cannot be penalised for making a request for changed hours.
Force majeure leave is where, for urgent family reasons, owing to injury or illness of a family member, the immediate presence of the employee at the place where the person is, whether at his or her home or elsewhere, is indispensible. Force majeure leave may consist of one or more days but shall not exceed three days in any period of 12 consecutive months or five days in any period of 36 consecutive months.
Disputes are dealt with at first instance by a rights commissioner and, on appeal, to the Employment Appeals Tribunal.