If your employee becomes pregnant while in employment in Ireland, they are entitled to take maternity leave for a basic period of 26 weeks. At present, at least two weeks have to be taken before the end of the week before the baby's expected birth and at least four weeks after. The employee can decide how they would like to take the remaining 24 weeks. Generally, employees take two weeks before the birth and 24 weeks after. The employee can also avail of an additional 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave.
The entitlement to maternity leave from employment extends to all female employees in Ireland (including casual workers), regardless of how long they have been working for the organisation or the number of hours worked per week.
Payment during maternity leave is normally provided through Maternity Benefit, which is a Department of Social Protection payment. Some employment contracts allow for additional payment rights during the leave period, for example, that the employee will receive full pay, less the amount of Maternity Benefit payable.
The Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 came into effect on 18 October, 2004. This law removed the compulsory requirement that women must take four weeks maternity leave prior to the birth. They may now work up to two weeks before the child's birth, if they so choose.
Additional maternity leave
Employees are also entitled to take up to a further 16 weeks maternity leave, but this period is not covered by maternity benefit, nor is the employer obliged, unless otherwise agreed, to make any payment during this period.
Where babies are born prematurely, mothers will be entitled to an additional period of paid maternity leave, where the ordinary qualifying criteria are met. The additional period will be equal to the number of weeks between the baby's actual birth date and the date on which the maternity leave was originally due to commence. This period will be added to the 26 weeks maternity leave entitlement. A baby will be considered to have been born prematurely where they are born at less than 37 weeks gestation.
Public holidays and annual leave
Employees are entitled to leave for any public holidays that occur during their maternity leave (including additional maternity leave). The right of employees to leave for public holidays is set down in Section 21 of the Organisation of The Working Time Act, 1997.
Maternity leave and annual leave
Time spent on maternity leave (including additional maternity leave) is treated as though they have been in employment, and this time can be used to accumulate annual leave entitlement.
Stillbirths and miscarriages
If an employee has a stillbirth or miscarriage any time after the 24th week of pregnancy, they are entitled to full maternity leave. This means a basic period of 26 weeks and also 16 weeks additional maternity leave. If you have satisfied the PRSI requirements, Maternity Benefit is payable for the 22 weeks of the basic maternity leave.
To apply for Maternity Benefit following a stillbirth, you need to send a letter from your doctor with the Maternity Benefit application form, confirming the expected date of birth, the actual date of birth and the number of weeks of pregnancy.
Father's entitlement to maternity leave
Fathers are only entitled to maternity leave if the mother dies within 24 weeks of the birth. In these circumstances, the father may be entitled to a period of leave, the extent of which depends on the actual date of the mother’s death. Where a father qualifies for leave under these circumstances, he also has an optional right to the additional maternity leave.
Postponing maternity leave
Section 7 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 provides for postponement of maternity leave in strict circumstances. (That is, if the baby is hospitalised). This right to postpone leave applies whether the employee is on maternity leave, or on additional unpaid maternity leave. The maximum amount of time the leave can be postponed for, is six months. Note, the employer has the right to refuse an application to postpone maternity leave.
An employee may only request that their maternity leave be postponed once they have taken at least 14 weeks maternity leave, 4 of which must have been taken after the birth. (This provision does not apply to fathers who are on maternity leave).
If an employee postpone's their maternity leave and return to work, then they may take their leave in one block, not later than 7 days after the child has been discharged from hospital. An employer may request a letter from the hospital confirming the child has been hospitalised and following discharge, a letter confirming the date of discharge.
If an employee postpones their maternity leave and return to employment, they need to notify the Department of Social Protection of this. The employee must notify them in writing that their child has been hospitalised and they have returned to employment. A letter from their family doctor (GP)/hospital is required to confirm to the Department that the child has been discharged from hospital and the employee's maternity benefit should resume. The employee's Personal Public Service Number (PPS) Number should be clearly identified on all documents sent to the Department.
Remember, an employee may only apply to postpone their maternity leave if the baby has been hospitalised - not if the child is simply unwell.
Illness while on postponed maternity leave
If an employee has to postpone their maternity leave and become ill when they return to work (before resuming your postponed leave), the employee may be considered to have started their resumed leave on the first day of their absence because of illness. Alternatively, the employee may choose to forfeit their right to resumed leave and have their leave treated as sick leave.
Returning to Work
An employee is entitled to return to work after maternity leave. The Maternity Protection Act, 1994 states that if it is not reasonably practicable for an employer to allow the employee to return to their job, then they must provide the employee with suitable alternative work. This new position should not be on terms substantially less favourable than those of the employee's previous job.
Otherwise, the employee is entitled to be treated as if they had been at work during their maternity leave. Their employment conditions cannot be worsened by the fact that they have taken maternity leave, and if pay or other conditions have improved while they have been on maternity leave then they are entitled to these benefits when they return to work.
If the employee decides not to return to work after their period of maternity leave, they are required to give their employer notice in the usual manner.
Time Off for medical visits
The Maternity Protection Act, 1994 provides that once an employee's pregnancy is confirmed they may take reasonable time off for medical visits connected with the pregnancy. There is no maximum or minimum amount of time off specified for these visits. Rather, they are entitled to as much time off as is necessary to attend each visit. (This includes the time required to travel to and from the appointment and the time taken for the appointment itself). They will need to provide you, the employer, with medical evidence confirming the pregnancy, giving two weeks notice of their medical visits. The employee should show their appointment card if requested by the employer at any time after their first appointment. The employee may also take time off for medical visits after the birth for up to 14 weeks following the birth including any time taken on maternity leave after the birth. The employee is entitled to be paid while keeping these medical appointments both before and after the birth.
It's important to note that while an employee is entitled to take reasonable time off without loss of pay for medical visits connected with their pregnancy, the employee may also be entitled to take paid time off to attend some ante-natal classes.
- The employee must give the employer at least four weeks' written notice of their intention to take maternity leave.
- The employee must also provide the employer with a medical certificate confirming the pregnancy.
- If the employee intends to take the additional 16 weeks maternity leave they must provide their employer with at least four weeks' written notice. Both these notices can be given at the same time. It is important that the employee complies with these notice requirements, as failure to do so may cause loss of rights.
- The employee must give the employer at least four weeks' written notice of their intention to return to work
- The employee must notify their employer as soon as possible if they wish to postpone their maternity leave (but remember, the employer can refuse this application).
How to apply
Employees should apply to their employer, in writing, to take maternity leave;
Apply to the Department of Social Protection for maternity benefit. They need to do this at least six weeks before their baby's due date.
Where to apply
The Workplace Relations Commission is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the maternity leave legislation in Ireland. Queries about entitlement to maternity leave, postponing leave, etc. should be addressed to:
Workplace Relations Commission
Tel: (059) 9178990
Lo Call: 1890 80 80 90
If an employee wishes to apply for maternity benefit, they should contact:
Maternity Benefit Section
Department of Social Protection
Telephone: LoCall 1890 690 690 (from the Republic of Ireland only).