Maternity Leave and Protection during
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
There are a series of basic rights under
the law for females in employment. These are:
- The right to time off, without pay, for
maternity leave and extra maternity leave
- The right to time off, without loss of
pay, for antenatal and postnatal care
- The right to health and safety leave where
an employment poses a hazard to the pregnant mother, or breastfeeding
- Protection against unfair dismissal due to
pregnancy, or matters connected with the pregnancy
- The right to return to work after
maternity and protective health and safety leave
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
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
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
How much notice must I give my
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
Am I entitled to time off for medical
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
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
- Breastfeed in the workplace or express
breast milk, where suitable facilities are provided in the workplace by the employer
- Have her working hours reduced (without
loss of pay) to facilitate breastfeeding where facilities are not made
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
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
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.