New Legislation and New Obligations

New legislation on paternity leave will come into effect in Ireland on 30th September. In advance of that, employers need to understand their obligations under the Bill and what they should expect from employees who want to take this leave, writes Ciara McGuone from the Small Firms Association (SFA).

The Paternity Leave and Benefits Bill 2016 enables a “relevant parent” to take two weeks’ paternity leave within the first 26 weeks of the birth/adoption of the child. The Act defines a “relevant parent” as a person (other than the mother of the child) who is the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the adopting mother or sole male adopter of the child, or in any other case, the father of the child, the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the mother of the child, or a parent of the child as defined under section 5 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. From this definition, it is clear that the Bill encompasses a wide range of circumstances and also makes equal provision for same sex couples. The paternity benefit is paid by the Department of Social Protection at €230 per week and employers have the option of providing a further top-up to the father’s paternity benefit to bring it up to their regular salary if they so choose.

What are the Paternity Leave Entitlements in Other EU Countries?

Ireland has certainly been lagging behind other EU countries in the area of paternity leave – most notably Sweden, where paid paternity leave has been in place for over 40 years. The UK, where paternity leave has been in place since 2003, also recently introduced shared parental leave. This means that mothers in the UK are able to share a large portion of their paid maternity leave with their partners, giving families more flexibility during the first year of birth/adoption of the child. As such, when looked at in the overall European context, the paternity legislation in Ireland is long overdue and realigns the rights of Irish employees with those of our European counterparts who have been afforded paternity leave for many years.

 

What are the Key Considerations for Employers?

  • Employers should update their company policies and procedures accordingly to reflect this change (i.e. draft a paternity leave policy / update current leave policies).
  • This proposed legislation ensures there will be no statutory obligation on an employer to continue to pay the normal salary during paternity leave. Employers will have the option of providing a further top-up to the “relevant parent’s” paternity benefit if they so choose.
  • There will be no change to employers’ PRSI to fund this proposal, which limits the potential additional costs for businesses.
  • There is a provision in the legislation that employees will be expected to give their employers at least four weeks’ notice of leave, which will allow employers to plan accordingly. In addition, the two weeks’ leave must be taken in one continuous period, which should help to minimise disruption for employers rather than this leave being broken into days or hours.
  • Research has shown that mothers who are supported at home in the weeks following their child’s birth tend to be healthier and to have lower incidences of post-natal depression. This additional support will help the mother’s transition back to the workplace.