The Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill was passed by the Dail in July 2016. It entitles all relevant parents to two weeks of statutory paternity leave and two weeks of State paternity benefit of €230.00 per week to be taken at any time within a 26 week period after the birth or adoption of the child. A relevant parent is defined as the father of the child, the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the mother. The Bill is applicable in the same way to fathers of newly-adopted children and to same-sex couples on an equal basis with other couples. A greater number of people will be able to benefit from the Bill than previously envisaged due to amendments made in the Report and Final Stage as the effective date for entitlements was changed from 30 September to 1 September 2016.
The entitlement to paternity leave is subject to an employee who is a relevant parent in relation to a child notifying his employer of his intention to take paternity leave. This notification must take place as soon as reasonably practicable but not later than four weeks before the expected day of placement in the case of a child who is, or is to be, adopted. In all other cases the employer must be notified as soon as reasonably practicable but not later than four weeks before the expected week of confinement of the expectant mother concerned. However the Bill does contain a provision for leave at short notice should that be necessary. The period of paternity leave commences on the day selected by the parent in his notification given to his employer. It must take place after the birth or placement of the child and not later than twenty six weeks after that time although there are certain circumstances outlined in the Bill where paternity leave may be postponed. These include late delivery or placement of the child, sickness of the relevant parent and hospitalisation of the child. The Bill prohibits availing of both paternity leave and adoptive leave, which could arise in the case of a male same-sex couple. The Bill does ensure that the parent will be entitled to paternity leave in the event of a stillbirth or death.
The State paternity benefit will be available to both employed and self-employed fathers subject to sufficient PRSI contributions having being made prior to commencing the leave. Although employers will not have to pay the benefit themselves there is an option of providing for a top-up if they so wish and it is expected that many employers will offer this.
The Bill provides that the rights of the employee taking paternity leave shall be preserved during the period of the leave. Any purported termination or suspension from employment of an employee while the employee is absent from work on paternity leave shall also be void. The Bill prohibits the penalisation or threatened penalisation of an employee for exercising, or purporting to exercise, their right to parental leave. The resolution of disputes in regard to entitlements under the Bill are set out in Part 4 thereof. It provides that an adjudication officer of the Workplace Relations Commission may award the grant of leave to the employee for such period as may be so specified, the award of two weeks remuneration, or both.
It should be noted that the paternity leave is only meant to be used for the employee to provide, or help in the provision of, care to the child or to provide support to the relevant adopting parent or mother of the child, as the case may be, or both. Where the employer believes that it is not being utilised for this purpose they can give notice in writing to the employee to terminate the leave. It is suggested that employers update their employee handbook to include a paternity leave policy which outlines the entitlements of their employees in relation to paternity leave.