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25 July 2016

Paternity Leave – New Legislation, New Obligations

Posted By: AIB Business

New legislation on paternity leave will come into effect in Ireland on 30th September. In advance of that, employers need to understand their obligations under the Bill and what they should expect from employees who want to take this leave, writes Ciara McGuone from the Small Firms Association (SFA).

The Paternity Leave and Benefits Bill 2016 enables a “relevant parent” to take two weeks’ paternity leave within the first 26 weeks of the birth/adoption of the child. The Act defines a “relevant parent” as a person (other than the mother of the child) who is the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the adopting mother or sole male adopter of the child, or in any other case, the father of the child, the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the mother of the child, or a parent of the child as defined under section 5 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. From this definition, it is clear that the Bill encompasses a wide range of circumstances and also makes equal provision for same sex couples. The paternity benefit is paid by the Department of Social Protection at €230 per week and employers have the option of providing a further top-up to the father's paternity benefit to bring it up to their regular salary if they so choose.


What are the Main Obligations Placed on Employers and Employees?

Obligations of the Employer  Obligations of the Employee
  • Similar to maternity leave, the “relevant parent” is protected during paternity leave. An employer is not permitted to terminate / give notice of termination of a relevant parent while they are on paternity leave.

  • Employment conditions cannot be worsened by the fact that an employee has taken paternity leave and an employee has a general right to return following the expiry of the leave period. If pay or other conditions have improved while the employee has been on paternity leave, they are also entitled to these benefits on their return.                                                                                                                                                                                 
  • An employee planning on taking paternity leave is expected to give four weeks’ notice to his/her employer.



  • Under the Bill, an employee taking paternity leave is only permitted to do so for the specified purpose. Section 16 of the Bill deals with abuse of paternity leave, where the employer “has reasonable grounds for believing that an […employee] is not using the leave for the purpose specified.” The purpose is to “provide, or assist in the provision of, care to the child or to provide support to the adopting mother, sole male adopter or mother of the child, as the case may be, or both.” 


What are the Paternity Leave Entitlements in Other EU Countries?

Ireland has certainly been lagging behind other EU countries in the area of paternity leave – most notably Sweden, where paid paternity leave has been in place for over 40 years. The UK, where paternity leave has been in place since 2003, also recently introduced shared parental leave. This means that mothers in the UK are able to share a large portion of their paid maternity leave with their partners, giving families more flexibility during the first year of birth/adoption of the child. As such, when looked at in the overall European context, the paternity legislation in Ireland is long overdue and realigns the rights of Irish employees with those of our European counterparts who have been afforded paternity leave for many years.


What are the Key Considerations for Employers?

  • Employers should update their company policies and procedures accordingly to reflect this change (i.e. draft a paternity leave policy / update current leave policies).
  • This proposed legislation ensures there will be no statutory obligation on an employer to continue to pay the normal salary during paternity leave. Employers will have the option of providing a further top-up to the “relevant parent’s” paternity benefit if they so choose.
  • There will be no change to employers’ PRSI to fund this proposal, which limits the potential additional costs for businesses.
  • There is a provision in the legislation that employees will be expected to give their employers at least four weeks’ notice of leave, which will allow employers to plan accordingly. In addition, the two weeks’ leave must be taken in one continuous period, which should help to minimise disruption for employers rather than this leave being broken into days or hours.
  • Research has shown that mothers who are supported at home in the weeks following their child’s birth tend to be healthier and to have lower incidences of post-natal depression. This additional support will help the mother’s transition back to the workplace.

As with any change, there certainly will be a transition period for employers to adapt to the new legislation. However, when considered in the broader context, the Paternity Leave Bill is modest compared with the paternity leave entitlements in other European countries. It is clear that due consideration was given when preparing this Bill, in as much as possible, to enhance the rights of the employee while trying to limit the financial burden placed on the employer.


Written by: Ciara McGuone ( ), Executive, Small Firms Association


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