If you become pregnant while in employment in Ireland, you are entitled to take maternity leave. The entitlement to a basic period of maternity leave from employment extends to all female employees in Ireland (including casual workers), regardless of how long you have been working for the organisation or the number of hours worked per week. Additional unpaid maternity leave is also available. The Maternity Protection Act 1994 and the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 provide your statutory minimum entitlements in relation to maternity at work including maternity leave.
If you start maternity leave on or after 1 March 2007, you are entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave together with 16 weeks additional unpaid maternity leave.
Under the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 at least 2 weeks have to be taken before the end of the week of your baby's expected birth and at least 4 weeks after. You can decide how you would like to take the remaining weeks. Generally, employees take 2 weeks before the birth and the remaining weeks after. If you qualify for Maternity Benefit (see below) at least 2 and no more than 16 weeks must be taken before the end of the week the baby is due.
Payment during maternity leave
Entitlement to pay during maternity leave depends on the terms of your contract of employment. Employers are not obliged to pay women on maternity leave. You may qualify for Maternity Benefit which is a Department of Social and Family Affairs payment should you have sufficient PRSI contributions. However an employee’s contract could provide for additional rights to payment during the leave period, so that, for example, the employee could receive full pay less the amount of Maternity Benefit payable.
Additional maternity leave
From 1 March 2007 you are also entitled to take up to a further 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave, but this period is not covered by Maternity Benefit, nor is your employer obliged, unless otherwise agreed, to make any payment during this period.
Public holidays and annual leave
You are entitled to leave for any public holidays that occur during your 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 Working Time Act 1997.
Time spent on maternity leave (including additional maternity leave) is treated as though you have been in employment, and this time can be used to accumulate annual leave and public holiday entitlement
Health and Safety leave
An employer should carry out separate risk assessments in relation to pregnant employees and those who have recently given birth. If there are particular risks, these should be either removed or the employee moved away from them. If neither of these options is possible, the employee should be given health and safety leave from work which may continue up to the beginning of maternity leave. During health and safety leave, employers must pay employees their normal wages for the first 3 weeks, after which Health and Safety Benefit may be paid.
Returning to work
Under Section 26 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 you are entitled to return to work to the same job with the same contract of employment. Section 27 of the Act states that if it is not reasonably practicable for your employer to allow you to return to your job, then they must provide you with suitable alternative work. This new position should not be on terms substantially less favourable than those of your previous job.
Otherwise, you are entitled to be treated as if you had been at work during your maternity leave. Your employment conditions cannot be worsened by the fact that you have taken maternity leave, and if pay or other conditions have improved while you have been on maternity leave then you are entitled to these benefits when you return to work.
PRSI contributions: you will automatically be awarded PRSI credits while you are getting Maternity Benefit. If you avail of unpaid additional maternity leave you must get your employer to complete an application form for maternity leave credits after you return to work.
Once your pregnancy is confirmed you 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, you 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.
You will need to provide your employer with medical evidence confirming the pregnancy, giving 2 weeks’ notice of your medical visits. You should show your appointment card if requested by your employer at any time after your first appointment. You 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. You are entitled to be paid while keeping these medical appointments both before and after the birth.
You may also be entitled to take paid time off to attend some ante-natal classes. Your entitlement is for one set of ante-natal classes except for the last 3 classes of the set. Fathers are entitled to paid time off to attend the last 2 classes in the set of ante-natal classes.
Further information visit Citizen's Information link.
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