Working parents are entitled to 18 weeks unpaid leave for each of their children.
This unpaid leave can be taken for each child up to the age of eight. In the case of a child with a disability, leave can be taken up to 16 years of age.
Both parents have an equal, separate entitlement to parental leave. Where an employee has more than one child, parental leave is limited to 18 weeks per year. This can be longer if the employer agrees. This 18 week restriction does not apply in the case of a multiple birth, such as twins or triplets.
The 18 weeks per child may be taken in one continuous period or in two separate blocks of a minimum of six weeks. There must be a gap of at least 10 weeks between the two periods of parental leave per child. However, with the consent of employer and employee the leave can be divided into periods that suit both.
Employees are not entitled to pay while they are on parental leave nor is there a right to any social welfare payment equivalent to Maternity Benefit or Adoptive Benefit.
Taking parental leave does not affect other employment rights. Apart from the loss of pay and pension contributions, an employee’s position remains as if no parental leave had been taken. This means, for example, that time spent on parental leave can still be used to build up annual leave entitlement. In addition, if annual holidays fall due during parental leave, they may be taken at a later time. An employee is also entitled to a day’s leave for a public holiday that falls while on parental leave and on a day an employee would normally be working.
Generally an employee must be working for an employer for a year before he/she is entitled to parental leave.
To apply, an employee must give written notice of their intention to take parental leave, at least six weeks before the leave is due to start. The notice should state the starting date and how long the leave will last.
Apart from a refusal on the grounds of non-entitlement, an employer may also postpone the leave for up to six months. 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.
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.
Employers must keep records of all parental leave taken by their employees. These records must include the period of employment of each employee and the dates and times of the leave taken. Employers must keep these records for eight years. If an employer fails to keep records they may be liable to a fine of up to €2,000.
Employees are entitled to return to their jobs after parental leave unless it is not reasonably possible for the employer to allow this. If this is the case an employee 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 on parental leave. The law protects parents who take parental leave from unfair dismissal.
Disputes about parental leave may be referred by the employee or the employer to the Workplace Relations Commission. Complaints must be referred within six months of the dispute occurring.