On 25 March 2021, the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2021 was passed by Dáil Éireann and was signed into law over the weekend. As a result, changes to Parent's Leave and Adoptive Leave announced in Budget 2021 are now in force. Our Employment Group have set out these changes in the briefing below.
Parent's Leave was introduced by the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 (the "2019 Act"). A welcome addition to the various types of family leave already available to employee's in Ireland, the 2019 Act provided that 'relevant parents', were entitled to two weeks' paid leave in respect of any child adopted by, or born to them on or after 1 November 2019. Parent's Leave had to be taken within 52 weeks of the child's birth or, placement with their adoptive family. Parent's Benefit is paid (subject to eligibility) at a rate of €245 per week by the Department of Social Protection. Within the first 10 months of the scheme's introduction, some 10,000 eligible parents availed of Parent's Benefit making it an extremely popular benefit with employees.
Our previous Employment Group briefing, available here, sets out the key aspects of the 2019 Act and considers whether employers should enhance pay during Parent's Leave (which can be taken by men and women) so that it is comparable with enhanced maternity pay.
In Summer 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and its impact on society and on parents began to be assessed, there were calls for increased support for working parents. However, while changes to Parent's Leave were put forward in response, it is worth noting that prior to the enactment of the 2019 Act, the Government had committed to increasing Parent's Leave incrementally up to seven weeks' by 2021.1
As part of Budget 2021, it was announced that:
- Parent's Leave and Benefit would increase from two to five weeks; and
- the time frame within which Parent's Leave must be taken would be extended from one, to two years from the child's birth or placement with their adoptive family.
These changes are now effective under the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021 (the "2021 Act"). Employers and parents alike should note that the changes apply retrospectively – parents who have taken two weeks' Parent's Leave prior to the enactment of the 2021 Act, will now have an entitlement to an additional three weeks. The five weeks of Parent's Leave may be taken either together or as separate weeks. We expect that the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the increased entitlement will encourage more employees to avail of the scheme. It must be noted that the legislation does not place an obligation on employers to pay employees or to top up payments while availing of the leave, this is a matter for employers to decide upon; the legislation provides a State benefit for the duration of the leave, hence the references to it being a "paid leave".
Separately, the deadline for the transposition of the EU Directive on Work Life Balance is 2 August 2022. This Directive contains proposals to ensure greater flexibility for parents and family carers in relation to leave and an improved work life balance. In recognition of this, the 2021 Act also includes a mechanism for its review in 12 months' time to include budgetary analysis on the potential for the further extension of Parent's Leave to nine weeks and the need to increase the rate of payment during the period.
Prior to the enactment of the 2021 Act, Adoptive Leave was available to a female employee adopting a child or a sole male adopting employee. An adopting father, other than a sole male adopter, was only entitled to Adoptive Leave where the adopting mother died. Further, a male same-sex couple could not avail of the leave.
In a further effort to provide for gender equality within the family and the workforce, the 2021 Act amends the Adoptive Leave Acts 1995 and 2005 (the "Acts") to enable any couple that jointly adopts a child to choose which of them will take Adoptive Leave. Under the Acts, an eligible employee may avail of 24 weeks State paid Adoptive Leave from the date the child is placed in his/her care and can take up to 16 additional weeks' unpaid Adoptive Leave provided he/she has given their employer four weeks' notice in writing of their intention to take the leave.
Employers are advised to update their existing family leave polices to reflect the changes introduced by the 2021 Act.
Originally Published by Arthur Cox, March 2021
This article contains a general summary of developments and is not a complete or definitive statement of the law. Specific legal advice should be obtained where appropriate.