Maternity leave and protection during pregnancy

Maternity Leave and Protection during Pregnancy

What is Maternity Protection?

There is detailed legislation in place to protect staff who are pregnant and staff who have recently given birth. All female employees are covered by this legislation – including casual workers – irrespective of how long they have worked in a company.

What rights are provided for under the law?

There are a series of basic rights under the law for females in employment. These are:

How much maternity leave is allowed?

As from 1st March 2006, you are entitled to a minimum period of maternity leave of 22 weeks, during which time you can claim Maternity Benefit from the Department of Social and Family affairs. In addition, you are entitled to take an additional 12 weeks’ unpaid leave, during which period there is no entitlement to Maternity Benefit.

From 1st March 2007, employees will be entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave, together with an additional 16 weeks’ unpaid maternity leave.

While the leave can be taken when the employee decides, at least two weeks have to be taken before the end of the week of your baby’s expected birth and at least four weeks after.

If the birth takes place later than expected, and the employee has less than four weeks leave left, the minimum period is extended by up to but not more than four weeks. This ensures that she has four weeks leave after the birth.

How much Maternity Benefit will I receive?

Maternity benefit is paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Some employers will make additional payments during maternity leave – so that the employee will receive their normal full pay, for example – but there is no obligation on an employer to do so.

Maternity Benefit is available to both employees and self-employed people, and is subject to certain social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions. You need to apply for the payment 6 weeks before you intend to go on maternity leave (12 weeks if you are self-employed).

Your weekly rate of statutory maternity benefit is calculated as 80% of your weekly income – subject to a minimum payment of €182.60 and a maximum payment of €265.60. If you are receiving certain other benefits, this payment may be less.

What are my rights during my period of leave?

Time spent on maternity leave (including the additional unpaid maternity leave) is treated as though you have been in employment – the time can be used to accumulate annual leave entitlement. You also are entitled to leave for any public holidays.

You have the right to postpone your maternity leave under strict circumstances (if your baby is hospitalised); however your employer has the right to refuse your application to postpone your maternity leave.

You are entitled to return to work after maternity leave. If it is not reasonably practicable for your employer to allow you to return to the same job, then they must provide you with suitable alternative work, which must not be on terms less favourable than those of your previous job.

How much notice must I give my employer?

You must give your employer at least four weeks’ written notice of your intention to take maternity leave. You must also give notice if you intend to take the 12 weeks’ additional maternity leave (this may be given at the same time). You must also give your employer at least four weeks’ written notice of your intention to return to work.

Are fathers entitled to any 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.

Am I entitled to time off for medical visits?

An employee is allowed time off as necessary from work, without loss of pay, to attend medical or related antenatal or postnatal care. An employee must give her employer at least two weeks notice, where possible of such appointments.

You are also entitled to take paid time off to attend one set of antenatal classes (except the last 3 classes, which would normally occur after maternity leave has started). This entitlement only covers one set of antenatal classes for all pregnancies while in employment. Fathers also have a once-off right to paid time off work to attend the two antenatal classes immediately prior to the birth.

What is health and safety leave?

Employers have to assess the risk to the safety or health of staff that are pregnant or breastfeeding. If a risk is identified, the employer must act to protect the employee. This may involve temporarily adjusting the working conditions or hours. In cases where this is not feasible, then the employee must be given health and safety leave.

The employer pays for the first 21 days of this leave, after which the employee receives a social welfare allowance.

Can I take time off for breastfeeding?

The provision for women to breastfeed at work, or to take time off work each day in order to breastfeed, was brought into effect in October 2004 under the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004. The provision applies to all women in employment who have given birth within the previous 6 months.

At the choice of her employer, the woman can either:

Women who are in employment and are breastfeeding are entitled to take a total of one hour (with pay) off work each day as a breastfeeding break.

What happens if there is a miscarriage or stillbirth?

If you have a stillbirth or miscarriage after the 24th week of pregnancy, you are entitled to full maternity leave and maternity benefit. Statutory maternity leave is not provided for in the case of a miscarriage that occurs up to and including the 24th week of pregnancy.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on maternity leave and protection during pregnancy, contact the Department of Social and Family affairs at 01 874 8444, or visit www.welfare.ie.

Reviewed: September 25, 2006


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