New parents are often unaware of the many types of leave that are available in Ireland to care for children. Furthermore, some of them are paid, some are unpaid, some are for mothers, some for fathers and some for both. Parents who want to take time off to care for their children need to be able to plan and budget in advance, but the various types of leave can confuse and not all employers are up to speed on the various entitlements either. This blog will attempt to lay out the various types of leave and entitlements available to parents, as well as giving some practical tips for how to use this leave.

Maternity leave

Most people are aware of this type of leave. It is available for all mothers who give birth to a child, including mothers who subsequently place their child for adoption. It’s a good idea to ask your employer whether they have a written maternity leave policy for you to consult. If they don’t, you can ask a trade union or an employer’s body if there is a general one that applies to your sector.

How long does it last?

Maternity leave is twenty-six weeks, or six months long. Extended maternity leave is an additional sixteen weeks.

What are my entitlements?

You are entitled to take full leave from your job for the duration of your maternity leave. Following your maternity leave, you are entitled to return to your previous job or, if your old job is no longer available or no longer exists, to another job with the same employer with pay and benefits no “less favourable” than those you had before you left.

If you were employed (paying PRSI) for 39 weeks in the twelve months prior to your maternity leave starting, you are entitled to maternity pay of €245 per week for the 26 weeks of maternity leave. If you were on the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment, this also counts towards your PRSI contributions. Some employers also “top up” their employee’s maternity pay, but this is at your employer’s discretion and is not a legal entitlement.

What are my obligations?

You must inform your employer, in writing, at least four weeks in advance, of your intention to take maternity leave. You must also inform your employer, in writing, at least four weeks in advance, of your intention to take extended maternity leave.

Can I take maternity leave whenever I like?

You must start your maternity leave any time from when you are 24 weeks pregnant, but no later than the Monday of the week before your due date. So for example, if you are due on Wednesday the 20th, you must start your maternity leave no later than Monday the 11th.

If your baby is born before the date you plan to start maternity leave, your maternity leave starts from the day you gave birth. If your baby is born prior to 37 weeks, then you get extra maternity leave equal to the difference between your baby’s birthday and the day you would have turned 37 weeks pregnant. So, for example, if your baby is born at 32 weeks, you will get an extra five weeks of maternity leave. If your baby is born at 28 weeks, you will get an extra nine weeks of maternity leave.

Do I have to take all my maternity leave?

No you don’t. You must take maternity leave from the Monday of the week before your baby is due or from the day your baby is born (whichever comes first), and you must stay on maternity leave until your baby is four weeks old. This is in order to protect women from employers who might otherwise pressure them to take no leave at all. However any additional maternity leave you take is completely up to you – you can take all or part of the 26 weeks maternity leave and all or part of the 16 weeks extended (unpaid) maternity leave.

If you return to work before your baby is 26 weeks old and you are (fully or partially) breastfeeding, you are entitled to an hour off per day to feed your baby and/or pump, with no reduction in pay. You can take this hour as one full hour off during the day, two thirty minute breaks, three twenty minute breaks, or you can arrive to work an hour late or leave work an hour early.

Is maternity leave the only paid leave available?

Nope! There is a new category of leave for new parents – called ‘parent’s leave’. Both parents get two weeks each to stay home with their baby during the baby’s first twelve months. Parent’s leave is paid (again, assuming you have sufficient PRSI contributions) at €245 per week. You must give your employer six weeks notice before taking parent’s leave.

The Government announced their intention to increase parent’s leave from two to five weeks per parent as part of the Budget 2021 process. An order from the Minister for Justice will be required to give legal effect to this change. For now technically each parent gets two weeks parent’s leave, but there is every reason to think this will be increased to five weeks by the end of the year.

Have I any other rights and entitlements?

Yes! Many mothers are completely unaware that they continue to accrue annual leave as normal while on maternity and parents’ leave. Also, you are entitled to days of leave in lieu of any public holidays that fall during your maternity leave. You can add these days on at the end of your leave.

For example, let’s say your due date is the 23rd of September and you opt to start your maternity leave at the latest possible date. This means your maternity leave starts on the 14th of September. Your leave looks like this:

14th September – 12th March: 26 weeks maternity leave with maternity benefit of €245 per week
15th March – 2nd July: 16 weeks extended maternity leave, unpaid
5th July – 6th August: 5 weeks parent’s leave with parent’s benefit of €245 per week

At this point, you were on leave for

October Bank Holiday
Christmas Day
St Stephen’s Day
New Year’s Day
St Patrick’s Day
Easter Monday
May Bank Holiday
June Bank Holiday
August Bank Holiday

So you have accrued nine days of leave in lieu. In addition, you were on leave for a total of forty-seven weeks. Assuming you get twenty days of annual leave per year, this means you have also accrued eighteen days of annual leave. All this means you can go back on payroll with your employer on the 9th of August, but you don’t have to return to work for another five weeks and two days – meaning you start back at work on Wednesday the 15th of September 2021 – almost a year later.

Let’s assume you can’t afford to take any unpaid leave, but can afford to take all your maternity and parent’s leave. Your total leave looks like this:

14th September – 12th March: 26 weeks maternity leave with maternity benefit of €245 per week
15th March – 16th April: 5 weeks parent’s leave with parent’s benefit of €245 per week

Public holidays:
October Bank Holiday
Christmas Day
St Stephen’s Day
New Year’s Day
St Patrick’s Day
Easter Monday

In addition, you have been on leave for 31 weeks and so accrued eleven days of annual leave. This means you go back on payroll on the 19th of April but don’t have to return to work until Wednesday the 5th of May, when your baby will be about seven and a half months old.

The only thing you can’t do is take your annual leave, parent’s leave or public holidays directly after your paid maternity leave, and then try to take your unpaid maternity leave. Your maternity leave, both paid and unpaid, must be taken all in one block. Once you terminate your maternity leave – either by returning to employment (whether or not you take annual leave immediately) or by moving to a different category of leave, such as parent’s leave or sick leave, you forfeit any remaining maternity leave. So if you want to take extended maternity leave, make sure you have budgeted during pregnancy and during your paid maternity leave and have enough saved up to allow you to do so.

Note also that if you do not return to employment with your original employer (either because you got a new job, or because you have moved into self-employment, or because you have left the workforce), you are entitled to pay in lieu of the public holidays and annual leave that accrued while you were on maternity and parents leave.

Many people don’t understand all these entitlements and many employers either don’t understand these entitlements themselves or don’t tell their employees. Don’t let this catch you out! Plan your leave, save up during pregnancy and consult a trade union or citizen’s information if you need help planning your particular leave.

Can I take any other unpaid leave?

Yes! You can also take parental leave. Parental leave is unpaid. You get 26 weeks of parental leave per child and you can take it any time up until the child’s 12th birthday.

Do I have to take parental leave all in one chunk?

No, you don’t. You are entitled to request parental leave in two blocks, each of which must be a minimum of six weeks minimum. Your employer can refuse your request for parental leave only once, or twice in exceptional circumstances (for example, they can refuse your second request if you ask to take leave during a particularly busy period for the company).

However, you can take your parental leave in more than two blocks, and/or in blocks of less than six weeks at a time, if your employer agrees. You can take a day or even a half-day of parental leave. I take every Friday as parental leave, for example.

What’s the point of parental leave if it’s unpaid? Why not just negotiate time off, or a reduction in hours?

There are several benefits to parental leave. First off, parental leave is a legal entitlement. You can try to negotiate some unpaid time off, a part-time contract, or a reduction in hours with your employer if you like (just as an employee without children under 12 could do), but it’s completely at your employer’s discretion to grant it. However they must grant you parental leave (as long as you give them six weeks notice, and subject to the caveat that they can refuse you once).

Secondly, parental leave counts as being in your regular employment. This means you accrue PRSI credits while you are on parental leave, and you also are entitled to full annual leave. If you negotiate with your employer to work a four day week, for example, your annual leave would be pro-rated down by 20%. However if you take one day’s parental leave per week, you retain your full annual leave allowance.

What about fathers? Do they get anything?

Yes. As mentioned above, fathers get 2 weeks (probably soon to be 5 weeks) parent’s leave which they can take any time while their baby is under a year old. Fathers also get 2 weeks paternity leave, which can be taken any time while their baby is under six months old. Both paternity and parent’s leave are paid at €245 per week. Fathers are also entitled to twenty six weeks of parental leave. Alternatively, paternity leave can be taken by the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the child’s mother instead of (but not as well as) the child’s father. The same goes for parent’s and parental leave.

For same sex couples, one parent is entitled to leave analogous to maternity leave and the other is entitled to leave analogous to paternity leave. If one parent gave birth to the child, they take maternity leave and the other parent takes paternity leave. If neither parent gave birth to the child, one parent takes adoptive leave (see below) and the other paternity leave. Both parents are entitled to the same parent’s and parental leave, as with opposite sex couples.

What if I adopt a child? Anything for me?

Yes, adoptive mothers (or adoptive fathers if they are adopting alone) get 24 (rather than 26) weeks of adoptive leave at €245 per week and 16 weeks of extended adoptive leave and two (probably soon to be five) weeks of parent’s leave. Adoptive fathers get two weeks paternity leave and two weeks of parent’s leave.

Incidentally, the birth mother, if she gave birth in Ireland, is also entitled to full maternity leave, regardless of when she places her baby for adoption. She is not entitled to parents or parental leave (once she has placed her child for adoption) as these types of leave are specifically intended for parents caring for their child.

What if I’m self-employed? Am I entitled to anything?

Yes, you are entitled to maternity or paternity leave and to parent’s leave. You will be paid €245 per week and you will accrue PRSI benefits while on leave.

Can leave be transferred between parents?

No, in general leave cannot be transferred between parents. The only exception is parental leave, if both parents have the same employer. In that case, an employer can allow one parent to use the other parent’s parental leave allowance, but that is at the employer’s discretion.

Why does it have to be so complicated? This is your longest post ever and I’m not sure I’m any clearer!

Great question! All the different types of leave are subtly different from each other, regarding who can use them, when they can use them, when they have to give their employer notice, and whether they get paid. These differences mean that the types of leave do need to be distinct from each other, from a legal and administrative perspective – but it’s not easy to get your head around it all, especially if you are self-employed or work for a business that’s too small to have a dedicated HR department.

I still don’t know what leave to take, or when, or how best to plan my time off.

If you’re still bamboozled and would like some help, feel free to drop us an email. We can put you in touch with someone who will help you plan your leave in a way that best suits you and your family. We will treat anything you tell us in strictest confidence.