The President of Ireland is on track to sign into law a new amendment to parental leave laws after the country’s upper house (“Seanad Éireann”) approved it on May 8, 2019. The law had previously passed the lower house (“Dáil Éireann”) on June 13, 2018. The amendment now returns to Dáil Éireann for final approval before the President signs and enacts it into law.

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 (the “Parental Leave Bill”) expands existing protections for Irish employees. The original Parental Leave Bill was passed in 1998 and provided 14 weeks leave for parents of children up to five years old. In 2006 leave was extended to parents with children up to eight, and to 16 years of age for children with disabilities or long-term illnesses. In 2013, leave was extended from 14 to 18 weeks. The Parental Leave Bill makes two big changes.

  1. Parents will now be entitled to up to six months of leave for each child; and
  2. Parents will be entitled to leave for children up to 12 years old.

Regarding paid parental leave, the amendments will provide new parents with two weeks’ paid leave each at a rate of €245 per week.

Coverage for Existing Parents

The new entitlements will be extended to parents who have already exhausted the four months provided under existing law as long as their children are 12 years of age or younger. The changes will be phased in over the next two years. An additional four weeks of parental leave will be available starting in September 2019, with the final four weeks available beginning in September 2020.

Motivation for the Bill

The bill’s authors, the Social Democrats, say that the legislation is aimed at helping working class families with work life balance. The emphasis is driven at least in part by the European Pillar of Social Rights, a non-binding charter that Ireland endorsed in November 2017. The charter names parental leave and work-life balance as key objective and the European Commission has created corresponding proposals to increase such policies in member states.

As of a 2018 European Commission assessment of paternity and parental leave policies in the EU, all member states offered some parental and/or paternity leave, but the benefits varied and the distinction between the two types of leave was often confusing. Parental leave specifically was provided in 16 member states, but was only well-paid in 13 of those states and in only 10 did the period of well-paid leave extend to eight or more weeks.

Potential Effects

While the short-term impact for employers will be increased costs corresponding to the new entitlement payments, the goal is for the new policies to allow more parents to remain in an increasingly more accommodating and attractive workplace. Some employers may also choose to follow the state’s lead and offer greater paid parental leave.

For example, this month one multi-national company announced it would provide 26 weeks of fully paid paternity leave to new fathers in Ireland, matching a previous commitment to maternity leave.