The Government recently introduced new legislation for parental leave, with a potential legal risk for non-compliant employers.
New legislation came into effect at the start of September, increasing the amount of unpaid parental leave that a parent can take per child from 18 to 22 weeks. Another increase is planned for September of next year, when the entitlement for unpaid leave will increase to 26 weeks.
The age of children for which the leave can be applied has increased, too, from eight to 12 years. The EU has also recently approved a directive on work-life balance for parents and carers
Rights for parents and carers
Law firm William Fry held a roundtable discussion on the topic of protected parental leave and flexible working arrangements, at which employment and benefits partner Alicia Compton said: “The most significant impact of this development from an Irish perspective will be the introduction of the right of parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements.”
Compton also acknowledged some of the parameters that will need close monitoring if the new legislation is to succeed.
“Ireland will need to introduce legislative changes to put structure around the application process and the extent to which an employee may have the right to enforce a reasonable request for flexible working arrangements.”
Advising companies in Ireland on their next steps, she added: “Employers will need to scrutinise the Irish legislation to ensure compliance.”
‘Flexible working policy’
Ben Conway, senior associate in William Fry’s employment and benefits team, elaborated upon this advice. “We would advise all Irish employers to introduce a flexible working policy if they do not already have one in place,” he said.
“A robust policy should clearly outline how requests for flexible working arrangements will operate in practice. We recommend that employers consider any request in a reasonable and consistent manner before making a final decision.”
Another recent change for parents in Ireland is the Parent’s Leave and Benefit Bill, which came into effect this month, providing two weeks of paid parental leave that can be taken during the first year after the birth or adoption of a child. This is separate and additional to any maternity, adoptive or paternity benefit.
Compliance of Irish companies
According to a report from CIPD in September, more than half of Irish companies still hadn’t updated their parental leave policies ahead of the recent changes, with 54pc reporting no plans to communicate with their staff about the legislative updates.
However, employers that fail to comply with the new government measures face potential charges of up to 20 weeks’ remuneration as compensation for impacted employees.