Heralded as an example of “new politics working”, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 (“the 2019 Act”) has now been commenced and is effective from the 19th July last. Championed by Social Democrats TD, Roisin Shortall, the 2019 Act was supported by all political parties and is a welcome development for Irish parents who Roisín Shortall described as “put to the pin of their collar to get by and keep the show on the road”. Employers must now ensure that policies and procedures are up to date and in line with the new entitlements and must prepare for applications for additional parental leave immediately.
The 2019 Act both extends the period of parental leave to which each parent is entitled and also increases the timeframe within which parents must avail of this leave. In this current climate of skills shortages and the war for talent, it is hoped that this progressive step forward will encourage parents of young children to remain in the workplace and feel supported in doing so.
The 2019 Act amends the Parental Leave Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”) and provides for the extension of the period of unpaid parental leave from the current entitlement of 18 weeks to 22 weeks from the 1st September 2019 and to 26 weeks from the 1st September 2020. This phased introduction allows smaller businesses to prepare for the change, providing employers with the opportunity to look ahead and consider what pro-active steps can be taken to ensure that parents can avail of their entitlement with minimum impact on business operations.
The 2019 Act also increases the age of the child in relation to whom parental leave is available from 8 to 12 years of age. Therefore, parents will now be able to avail of their extended entitlements up until the child in question turns 12 years old. The 2019 Act also increases the relevant age for children who have been adopted. Previously, parents of children adopted between the age of six and eight years old could avail of the leave in respect of the child up to two years after the date of the adoption order. The 2019 Act now extends this time and provides that leave may be taken up to two years after the date of the adoption order for children who have been adopted between the ages of 10 and 12 years old.
The increase in the qualifying age will have a significant impact for employers as the amendment will re-open parental leave entitlements for parents who may have already taken parental leave but whose children are now still under the new qualifying age. Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath raised a question in the Dáil with the Minister about the the 2019 Act in recent days and, in reponse, the Minister confirmed that the 2019 Act will allow any parent who did not use their full entitlement under the 1998 Act to claim any unused leave as long as their child is under the qualifying age. Applications from parents to use this additional leave can be made as and from the 19th July last, allowing them to give the statutory six weeks notice to their employer in advance of the four weeks additional leave being available from 1st September next.
The 2019 Act has not amended section 11 of the 1998 Act which provides for a postponement by the employer of parental leave in certain circumstances. The section sets out a variety of circumstances where the employer may postpone a request which has been received and the request can be postponed for up to 6 months, including circumstances where an employer is satisfied that the taking of parental leave may have a substantial adverse affect on the operation of his or her business, profession or occupation by reason of the number of employees whose period of parental leave will fall within the period specified. Given the revised qualifying age of children for parental leave, and the additional four weeks of leave available, employers can expect to see an increase in applications for untaken parental leave in the coming weeks.
Furthermore, the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019, which will provide employees with two weeks of paid parental benefit during the first year from the date of a child’s birth or adoption, is also on the horizon and is expected to be enacted by November 2019.
Our Employment Team at RDJ are working closely with businesses to ensure they are prepared for these legislative changes and please don’t hesitate to contact us to explore how we can be of assistance to your business.
This document is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Specific legal advice should be sought on any particular matter.
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