Employers are now preparing for changes to parental leave law later in 2019 which will allow more employees to take parental leave and for longer, and entitle them to be paid parental benefit for part of that leave.

The law at the moment says that each parent (or person acting as a parent) of a child up to eight years old (or 16 years if the child is disabled or has a long-term illness) have a separate and equal right to take up to four months (18 working weeks) unpaid parental leave for that child. Generally, only employees of at least a year’s standing can do this, but there are special rules if a newer employee has a child near the age threshold, in which case pro-rata rules apply.

As an employer, you do have a right to postpone an employee’s parental leave for up to six months – for example, if you don’t have enough cover to cope.

There are two proposed changes:

  • Leave is to be increased to 6 months (26 working weeks) for each child.
  • Leave can be taken for every child up to 12 years old, rather than eight (the rights of parents of disabled or ill children up to 16 are unchanged).

There are also transitional rules designed to ease the new laws in, which say:

  • If you employ someone who has already taken their 18 working weeks under the current rules, they will be entitled to the extra eight weeks (to take them up to 26) when the new rules come in.
  • Entitlement to the new leave periods will be phased in so that eligible parents can take four extra weeks of parental leave from September 2019, and the full eight weeks from September 2020.

Parental leave is unpaid at the moment, but the government has also announced new laws which provide for payment of parental benefit of up to €245 per week (or a sum equal to illness benefit, whichever is more) for parents on parental leave, for two weeks of that leave, provided it:

  • Is taken during the child’s first year after their birth or adoption.
  • Is used to take care of (or help take care of) the child

If an employee takes parental leave during a probationary period, training or apprenticeship you can choose to stop the clock from running on the relevant period while the employee is away, and start it up again when they return to work.

The expectation is that the paid parental period of two weeks will gradually increase over the next three years, ending up with an entitlement of seven weeks’ paid parental leave.

You can now start to assess the implications for your business of more employees take parental leave, for longer, and planning and budgeting how you’ll cover for them if they do. You can also decide issues such as when you might exercise your right to make employees postpone their parental leave, and whether you are going to suspend probation, etc periods for those taking parental leave.

If you don’t already have one, a parental leave policy can be a good idea, so employees know what the rules are and can see that everyone is being treated fairly and consistently.

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