The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 and the Draft EU Directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers
Work-Life balance for parents and carers is consistently on the political agenda, both in Ireland and in the EU.
The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, was passed by the Dáil at the beginning of July this year to enhance the current provisions of Parental Leave in Ireland.
This is against the backdrop of Ireland introducing paid paternity leave for fathers in the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016; consideration of the removal, in October, from the Constitution of the reference to a women’s place being in the home and the approval by Cabinet on 3rd July 2018 for the General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill.
The European Commission is also preparing the general approach to parental leave and flexible working arrangements, for parents and carers with the view to promoting fathers to take up family-related leave. The intention of which is to create more female participation in the workforce, contributing to addressing the gender pay gap.
The lack of payment during parental leave is a clear disincentive for taking leave, ultimately placing child care and care related activities with women. In Ireland, it is clearly the case that the majority of those who take family-related leave are women.
The proposed EU Directive states that fathers would have the right to paid paternity leave for a ten day period around the birth of the child. The Directive also states that parental leave should be paid to some degree, and states that two months of that parental leave cannot be transferred to the other partner. Furthermore, it proposes giving the right to request flexible working arrangements for caring purposes.
In Ireland, the proposed increase in parental leave to twenty-six working weeks, from eighteen weeks entitlement for both parents is a further step in the recognition of the importance of balancing work and childcare commitments. However, there is no plan to include payment for this leave, as per the Directive’s draft.
Ireland is one of the six countries that do not provide any form of payment during parental leave, although there may be some introduction of some form of paid parental leave in the budget.
Currently, The Parental Leave Acts 1998 and 2006 entitle parents of (or people acting in loco parentis) of children up to eight years of age (or up to 16 years if the child has a disability or long-term illness) to 18 working weeks’ of parental leave per child.
The employee needs to have completed one year’s continuous employment with their current employer, or where the parent is close to the leave being no longer available, e.g. due to their child reaching eight years’ of age, there is some pro-rata leave permitted with service of three months.
The current legislation entitles parents to take parental leave in one continuous block of 18 working weeks or two separate blocks. The minimum is a six-week block or, with the agreement of the employer, the parental leave entitlement can be taken in over days or hours.
If employees have more than one child there is a restriction on the entitlement where no more than 18 weeks can be taken in one year. Exceptions are granted for multiple births. There also must be a ten-week break between the first and second requested leave for a child.
This is unless the employer agrees with the employee otherwise. An employer is also entitled to postpone an application for parental leave for up to six months where there may be a substantial adverse effect on the business if it was given at the initial requested time.
Both parents have an equal separate entitlement to parental leave and this entitlement can only be transferred from one parent to another where both parents work for the same employer (and the employer agrees to such a transfer). Any such transfer is capped at 14 working weeks.
Public Holiday’s and statutory annual leave entitlements continue to accrue during parental leave, and service is also not affected.
With the enactment of the new Bill, any parents who have already exceeded their current entitlement will be entitled to an additional 8 weeks’ unpaid parental leave up to the age of twelve of their child.
It is evident that the purpose EU Directive and Ireland’s own draft Bill and recent legislation in terms of paternity leave is an attempt to close the gender pay gap and address gender inequality.
For Ireland, the draft Bill fits into a tapestry of efforts to improve work-life balance and gender equality in Ireland. Employers should prepare further for additional requests from staff with young children by reviewing how taking leave in blocks, or for more flexible working, may affect their operation.
It may be prudent to consider consulting with parents, who make the request, for alternative ways of taking the leave if that is mutually beneficial e.g. a day per week. In addition, any parental leave policy already in place will need to be updated. Graphite HRM will be sending out an updated version of the parental leave policy in the next handbook update in November 2018, if the Bill has been enacted at that stage.
If you have any questions relating to parental leave, please contact the advice line on 1890 253 369