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Parental Leave – What Is It And How Do I Get It?

In today’s modern society it’s a constant battle for men and women to manage the work-family issue.

Finding the boundaries between employment and childcare can be a constant struggle.

One measure has been to ensure there is statutory leave for parents when children are young, with full job protection. The EU requires all member states to meet minimum standards on maternity and parental leave.

Unfortunately Ireland is the only EU member state that provides no period of well-paid leave and the whole policy is based on the somewhat old-fashioned premise that women are still primarily responsible for the care of young children.

So, what do we have in Ireland? Well The Parental Leave Act 1998, (amended by the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2006), allows parents to take parental leave from employment in respect of certain children. To keep it simple I’ve listed the key questions working parents have about parental leave

How old must my child be?

Parental leave can be taken in respect of a child up to 8 years of age. If a child was adopted between the age of 6 and 8, leave in respect of that child may be taken up to 2 years after the date of the adoption order. In the case of a child with a disability or a long-term illness leave may be taken up to 16 years of age.

How much leave can I take?

The amount of parental leave available for each child amounts to a total of 18 working weeks per child. Where an employee has more than one child, parental leave is limited to 18 weeks in a 12-month period. This can be longer if the employer agrees. Parents of twins or triplets can take more than 18 weeks of parental leave in a year.

How do I take parental leave?

The 18 weeks per child may be taken in one continuous period or in 2 separate blocks of a minimum of 6 weeks. There must be a gap of at least 10 weeks between the 2 periods of parental leave per child. However, if your employer agrees you can separate your leave into periods of days or even hours.

Can my partner take parental leave?

Both parents have an equal separate entitlement to parental leave. Unless you and your partner work for the same employer, you can only claim your own parental leave entitlement (18 weeks per child). If you both work for the same employer and your employer agrees you may transfer 14 weeks of your parental leave entitlement to each other.

What happens if I get sick during parental leave?

If the parent becomes ill while on parental leave and is unable to care for the child the leave can be suspended for the duration of the illness. In order to suspend the parental leave the employee must give written notice and relevant evidence of the illness to the employer as soon as is reasonably practicable. The parental leave resumes after the illness. During the illness the parent is treated as an employee who is sick.

Do I get paid while on parental leave?

You are not entitled to pay or pension contributions from your employer while you are on parental leave nor are you entitled to any social welfare payment equivalent to Maternity Benefit or Adoptive Benefit.

What happens to my holidays/annual leave?

While on parental leave, you must be regarded for employment rights purposes as still working. This means that you can build up annual leave while on parental leave. If your annual holidays fall due during parental leave, they may be taken at a later time. A public holiday that falls while you are on parental leave and on a day when you would normally be working is added to your period of leave.

How long do I have to work with my employer to qualify for parental leave?

Generally you must have been working for your employer for a year before you are entitled to parental leave. However if your child is very near the age threshold and you have been working for your employer for more than three months but less than one year you are entitled to pro-rata parental leave. This is one week leave for every month of employment completed.

What happens if I change job?

If you change job and have used part of your parental leave allowance you can use the remainder after one year's employment with your new employer provided your child is still under the qualifying age

Can my request for parental leave be refused?

Apart from a refusal on the grounds on non-entitlement, an employer may also postpone the leave for up to 6 months. This must be done before the confirmation document is signed. After that, the leave cannot be postponed without further written agreement. Grounds for such a postponement include lack of cover or the fact that other employees are already on parental leave. Normally only one postponement is allowed, but it may be postponed twice if the reason is seasonal variations in the volume of work.

How do I apply for parental leave?

You must give written notice to your employer of your intention to take parental leave. You must inform your employer in writing at least 6 weeks before the leave is due to start. The notice must state the starting date and how long the leave will last. After this not less than 4 weeks before the leave is due to start, you will need to sign a document with your employer confirming the details of the leave

What else do I need to know?

Parental leave is to be used only to take care of the child concerned. If the parental leave is taken and used for another purpose the employer is entitled to cancel the leave.

You are entitled to return to your job after your parental leave unless it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to allow you to return to your old job. If this is the case you must be offered a suitable alternative on terms no less favourable compared with the previous job including any improvement in pay or other conditions which occurred while you were on parental leave.

A lot of mums add on parental leave after maternity leave to extend the time they can spend with their new baby. As this can mean that a mum is away from work for a long period of time the parental leave act now allows for you to ask for a change in your work pattern or working hours for a set period after taking parental leave. Your employer must consider your request but is not obliged to grant it. This temporary period of staggered hours is really worth pursuing as it gives you a chance to settle back into work gradually. From our experiences of coaching returning mums this can be really beneficial rather than going for the all or nothing approach of a full-time return after months away.

At Mumager we support working mums. We’re here for you - if you have an issue or a question then we’d love to hear from you. You can ask a question via the Mumager forum or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We run workshops throughout the year so do get in touch for more information at info@mumager.ie

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About the Author

Mumager can give advice on everything related to going back to work after maternity leave. Whether it’s understanding your entitlements or how to deal with a difficult boss please ask us.

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