- a right to time off without pay for maternity leave and additional maternity leave;
- a right to time off, without loss of pay, for ante-natal and post-natal care;
- a right to time off, without loss of pay, to attend one set of ante-natal classes (other than the last three classes);
- a right to health and safety leave, where the employment results in a hazard to the employee or the baby;
- accrual of annual leave and public holiday entitlement while on maternity leave and additional maternity leave;
- protection against unfair dismissal on grounds of pregnancy or related matters;
- a right to return to work after maternity and protective leave;
- paid breastfeeding breaks of one hour in the workplace, or a reduction of one hour a day in working hours, at the option of the employer;
- subject to the employer’s agreement, a right to terminate additional maternity leave in the event of becoming ill and a right to postpone maternity leave or additional maternity leave if the child is hospitalised.
- employees on fixed-term contracts also have these entitlements and protections. Where the employment contract is due to expire during the period of maternity leave, additional maternity leave or health and safety leave, the leave and any entitlements to benefit expire on the day the contract expires. Successive fixed-term contracts may complicate the issue, as employees could then come under the protection of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015.
In an environment where a potential risk to pregnant employees has been identified, it is necessary to emphasise this point during induction training and at regular intervals. Employees must be informed that, for their own and/or the baby’s health and safety, they are obliged to inform the organisation as soon as they are aware of their pregnancy.
Maternity leave and additional maternity leave entitlement
Pregnant employees are entitled to a minimum period of 26 weeks maternity leave. The leave period may be taken at the time the employee selects, provided that the leave commences at least two weeks before the end of the (medically certified) expected week of confinement, and ends no earlier than four weeks after the birth of the child. In addition to maternity leave, an employee is entitled to avail of 16 weeks additional maternity leave to be taken immediately following the maternity leave period.
There is no requirement under the Acts for employers to pay any remuneration during the 26 week maternity leave period or the 16 weeks additional maternity leave. An employee may be entitled to claim maternity benefit from the Department of Social and Family Affairs for the duration of her 26 week maternity leave period, provided she has the necessary PRSI contributions. Some employers may choose to top-up this social welfare payment. For information on the areas to consider when making a payment top up please see the section below titled ‘Paid maternity leave benefit’.
There is no social welfare benefit payable during additional maternity leave; hence it is sometimes referred to as ‘unpaid leave’.
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