The EU Parliament has recently approved a proposal for an EU Directive on work-life balance. It proposes to introduce new rights as regards parental leave, puts paternity and carer’s leave entitlements on an EU footing and, importantly, extends the scope of the right to flexible working arrangements for employees returning from parental leave.
The Proposal intends to introduce more flexibility as regards the form in which parental leave may be taken, including full-time, part-time, or in other flexible forms. Currently in Ireland, employees may take parental leave in one continuous block of 18 weeks or two separate blocks of not less than six weeks (with a 10 week gap in between the two blocks) or on more favourable terms as agreed between the employee and employer. However the Proposal suggests that employees will be able to take parental leave in a more piece-meal fashion.
The Proposal sets out that employees should be compensated during periods of parental leave, the level of which should be set by each country. Employees in Ireland are not currently entitled to social welfare parental leave benefit. However, under the Parental Leave Scheme, relevant parents will be eligible to receive two week’s parental leave benefit. The rate of parental leave benefit is due to be set at the same rate as maternity and paternity benefit. A related article on the Scheme is available here
The Proposal also intends to stop, or at least significantly reduce, a parent transferring their parental leave entitlement to the other, to incentivise more men to take-up their parental leave entitlement. This is less relevant in Ireland where employees are only allowed to transfer their parental leave entitlement in limited circumstances.
Flexible working arrangements
The Proposal aims to improve access to work-life balance arrangements among both men and women. Currently, in Ireland, employees returning to work after a period of parental leave may request a change in their work hours, or work patterns, or both - although an employer may refuse these requests. The Proposal intends to extend the scope of flexible working arrangements which can be requested, by adding a third offer of remote working.
Paternity and carer’s leave
The Proposal sets out common minimum requirements for paternity leave and carer’s leave.
While Ireland already complies with the minimum paternity leave requirements set out under this Proposal, it seems that the Proposal intends to offer carers a short period of time off to care for a relative. This is very different to carers’ leave under Irish law, where eligible employees may take 104 weeks leave to provide full time care and attention to a relevant person. So it is unclear whether a new, distinct, type of carer’s leave will be introduced in Irish law pursuant to this Proposal.
Irish law already addresses many of the issues the Proposal seeks to tackle. However the main issues Irish employers should consider in light of this Proposal are (i) employees taking parental leave in a piece-meal fashion; (ii) parental leave benefit; and (iii) employees potentially asking for remote working as a new type of flexible working arrangement on return to work from parental leave.
With parental leave benefit being introduced later this year, employers should consider whether it intends to ‘top-up’ employees’ social welfare entitlements and should consider revising its policies and procedures relating to parental leave.
If you would like to discuss the potential impact of this issue on your business, please contact a member of our Employment Law & Benefits team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.