By virtue of Legal Notice 201 of 2022, entitled the Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers Regulations (the "Legal Notice"), published on 12 July 2022, Malta transposed Directive (EU) 2019/1158 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU (the "Directive").

The Directive recognizes the challenges parents face to maintain a work-life balance. Often, some parents are forced to work less to take care of their children and relatives. The situation is exacerbated by the limited incentives for fathers or equivalent second parents to be equally involved in childcare, thereby entrenching gender stereotypes.

Most significantly, the Directive introduces paternity leave, carers' leave, flexible working arrangements and new and improved requirements for parental leave. Effectively, the Legal Notice injects a new notion into Maltese law - fathers and equivalent second parents will be entitled to ten days of paid leave immediately after the birth or adoption of their child. It can be availed of regardless of the period of employment at the time of birth or adoption and regardless of family or marital status. Previously, fathers in employment were only entitled to one day of birth leave, which may have varied according to the Wage Regulation Order governed a particular sector of work. Furthermore, carers' leave has been established, granting five days of unpaid leave to employees who have relatives or persons residing with them who need care, support, and "serious" medical attention.

Additionally, the Legal Notice has improved conditions for the already-existing parental leave entitlement, regulated by Subsidiary Legislation 452.78, Parental Leave Entitlement Regulations (Now Repealed). Previously, parents were entitled to four months of unpaid leave on the grounds of birth, legal custody, and fostering. Parents were able to avail of parental leave until the child turned eight years of age. This leave was non-transferrable and could be used in intervals of one month each.

Now, each parent is entitled to four months of parental leave, two of which are paid (at the same rate established for the sickness benefit entitlement under the Social Security Act) and are transferrable. This leave entitlement must be taken in intervals of at least two weeks. Alternatively, an agreement stipulating otherwise may be reached between the employer and the employee. Parents may benefit from this entitlement if they have been in employment with the same employer for a continuous period of at least twelve (12) months. Should an employee have an existing balance of parental leave when changing employer or employment, the leave balance is transferred accordingly.

The Legal Notice has sought to ensure that employees availing themselves of these newly introduced leave arrangements cannot return to work with any less favourable conditions than the ones they originally had prior to taking such leave.

The Legal Notice has introduced another notion to improve working arrangements for both parents and carers. Employees now have a right to request flexible working conditions (until the child is eight years old in the case of parents). These can include but are not limited to remote working, flexitime and reduced hours (which, however, may be limited in duration).

The Legal Notice comes into force on 2 August 2022, the deadline set forth by the Directive and it will be applicable to any employment contract, including fixed or indefinite contracts and full-time or part-time contracts, contracted under Maltese legislation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.