At O’Brien Murphy Solicitors, we’re constantly helping women understand their maternity leave rights. Here’s some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive:
How long is maternity leave in Ireland?
In Ireland, women are entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave. Employees can also opt to take an additional 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave.
When can an employee take maternity leave?
An employee decides when they want to take maternity leave. The only stipulation is that an employee must:
- take at least two weeks leave before the end of the week that the baby is due; and
- take four weeks’ leave after the baby is born.
If an employee has less than 4 weeks maternity leave left when their baby is born (this may arise if they have a late birth), then they are entitled to have their maternity leave extended for up to four weeks. This does not affect their entitlement to take additional unpaid maternity leave.
What notice do employees have to give to their employer?
An employee is obliged to inform their employer that they intend on taking maternity leave. This notice must be given in writing and at least 4 weeks before the employee intends on taking maternity leave. Employees should also provide their employer with a medical certificate confirming their pregnancy. This certificate should state the week that the baby is due. If a woman wishes to avail of the additional 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave, she should notify her employer as soon as possible but again not less than 4 weeks before her expected date of return to work.
Are employees entitled to time off for antenatal and post-natal medical appointments?
Yes. In addition to maternity leave, women are entitled to paid time off for antenatal and post-natal care. This includes medical appointments, examinations and tests relating to her pregnancy or the birth of the child. Employees are also entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal classes. Employers are not entitled to treat such absences as part of an employee’s other leave including sick leave or annual leave.
Employees are required to notify their employer in writing of any antenatal and post-natal appointments at least 2 weeks beforehand. If, for any reason, an employee is not in a position to give this notice (e.g. they were required to attend an unscheduled antenatal or post-natal medical appointment), they should provide their employer with proof that they attended the appointment and the reason why they could not give notice.
Are employees entitled to time off for breastfeeding?
Yes. Women who are breastfeeding are entitled to paid time off to breastfeed, or reduced working hours (without loss of pay) to facilitate breastfeeding outside the workplace. Employers are entitled to decide which option is most suitable. In both cases, an employee is entitled to one hour off work each day as a breastfeeding break. This is in addition to other time off (e.g. lunch breaks). An employee is entitled to full pay for this hour.
Are employees entitled to full pay during maternity leave?
No. Although many do, an employer is not obliged to pay employees who are on maternity leave. However, if an entitlement to pay during maternity leave is stipulated in a contract of employment, then that obligation must be met. Instead, women on maternity leave are entitled to social welfare benefits so long as they have the necessary PRSI contributions. Please visit mywelfare.ie for the most up-to-date maternity leave social welfare payment amounts.
Does maternity leave effect annual leave?
No. Being on maternity leave does not affect one’s employment rights and, apart from remuneration, employees must be treated as if they were still there. This means that an employee’s annual leave will build up as normal. Employee’s must also be compensated for any public holidays that fall whilst they are on maternity leave – in the form of an extra day’s pay or an extra day’s annual leave.
Is an employee’s job safe whilst on maternity leave?
Yes. An employee has the right to return to work after maternity leave under the same terms and conditions as they had before. They are also entitled to any improvements in those terms and conditions that they would have received if they had not been absent.
Employees also have the right to return to the same position and job that they had before they left for maternity leave. If this is not possible or practical, an employer must offer a suitable alternative. Any suitable alternative must be of the same kind of work and one that that is appropriate for the employee to do under the circumstances.
Can an employer dismiss an employee during maternity leave?
Yes. However any such dismissal cannot be as a result of the employee’s pregnancy, attendance at antenatal classes, giving birth, breastfeeding, or any pregnancy-related matters. If there is any suspicion or if a woman feels that they are being discriminated against because of their pregnancy, they can bring a claim of unfair or constructive dismissal. Anyone in such a position should contact a solicitor as soon as possible.