Dear Working Mother,

The Parental Leave Act came into existence in Ireland on December 3 1998, around the same time I was starting my first job as a fresh-faced 18 year old.  I don’t recall the introduction of this act – it had zero impact on my life and it was so far off my radar it might aswell have been introduced on Mars.

Even after the arrival of my first baby some 13 years later I still didn’t know of its existence.  Over coffee one day with a few of my “mammy” friends the topic turned to parental leave and only then was I introduced to the concept.  Four years on I’m still not 100% educated when it comes to a parent’s entitlement so I decided to take a closer look.

Here’s the low down:

  • Parental leave is available to each parent.
  • Parental leave is 18 weeks per child.
  • Leave can be taken for a child up to eight years of age (if your child has a disability or long-term illness the leave may be taken up to 16 years of age).
  • If you has more than one child, parental leave is limited to 18 weeks in a 12-month period (can be longer if the employer agrees). If you’re the proud parent of twins or triplets you can take more than 18 weeks parental leave in a year.
  • The 18 weeks per child may be taken in one continuous period or in two separate blocks of a minimum of six weeks. There must be a gap of at least 10 weeks between the two periods of parental leave per child.  If your employer agrees you can separate your leave into periods of days or even hours.
  • If you and your partner both work for the same employer and your employer agrees you may transfer 14 weeks of your parental leave entitlement to each other.
  • If you become ill while on parental leave, your leave can be suspended for the duration of the illness – during the illness you are treated as an employee who is sick.
  • Apart from the loss of pay, your position remains as if no parental leave has been taken (e.g. you can accumulate your annual leave entitlement).

OK so that’s the general outline of the Parental Leave Act covered.  How easy or difficult is it to avail of and what rules do you have to adhere to:

  • You must be working for your employer for a year before you become entitled to parental leave.
  • If you change job and have used part of your parental leave allowance you can use the remainder after one year’s employment with your new employer provided your child is still under the qualifying age
  • Apart from a refusal on the grounds on non-entitlement, an employer may also postpone the leave for up to 6 months. Grounds for such a postponement include lack of cover or the fact that other employees are already on parental leave. Normally only one postponement is allowed, but it may be postponed twice if the reason is seasonal variations in the volume of work.
  • You are entitled to return to the job you left prior to taking parental leave. If this is not possible you must be offered a suitable alternative on terms no less favourable compared with your old job.
  • When you return to work after taking parental leave, you are eligible to ask for a change in your work pattern or working hours for a set period. Your employer must consider your request but is not obliged to grant it.

I’ve never requested parental leave but I have heard many friends talk about it in unfavourable terms.  It seems difficult to take and at the discretion of employers.

The topic leaves me with lots of questions.  I wonder if it’s easier to take at larger companies with more resources, who may see a greater volume of these requests?  Or how about public sector versus private sector?  And for that matter how many men versus women are taking this entitlement?

I also wonder are parents (in particular women) “afraid” to request this right for fear of how they will be labelled and damage their career prospects?

What is your experience with parental leave?  Have you or your partner taken it?  Was it easy to get your request approved?  We’d love you to share your stories with us and other mothers.

Sincerely,

Martina Perry
The Working Mother