If you are pregnant while in employment, you are entitled to maternity leave. The entitlement to a basic period of maternity leave from employment extends to all female employees (including casual workers), regardless of how long you have been working for the organisation or the number of hours worked per week. You can also avail of additional unpaid maternity leave. The Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004 provide your statutory minimum entitlements in relation to maternity at work, including maternity leave.
You are entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave together with 16 weeks' additional unpaid maternity leave, which begins immediately after the end of maternity leave. An extension is available in the event of a premature birth - see 'Premature births' below.
Under the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004, you must take at least 2 weeks 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), you must take at least 2 and no more than 16 weeks before the end of the week the baby is due.
Payment during maternity leave
Your entitlement to pay and superannuation during maternity leave depends on the terms of your contract of employment. Employers are not obliged to pay women who are on maternity leave. You may qualify for Maternity Benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection if you have enough 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
You are also entitled to take up to a further 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave, which begins immediately after the end of maternity leave. This period is not covered by Maternity Benefit, nor is your employer obliged, unless otherwise agreed, to make any payment during this period - see below. If you become ill while you are on additional maternity leave you may ask your employer if you may end the additional maternity leave. If your employer agrees you will not be entitled to the remainder of the maternity leave, but you will be treated as being on sick leave and you may be entitled to Illness Benefit.
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.
Apart from pay and superannuation, 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
Stillbirths and miscarriages
If you have a stillbirth or miscarriage any time after the 24th week of pregnancy, you are entitled to full maternity leave. This means a basic period of 26 weeks and 16 weeks of additional maternity leave. If you have satisfied the PRSI requirements, Maternity Benefit is payable for the 26 weeks of the basic maternity leave.
To apply for Maternity Benefit following a stillbirth, you need to send a letter from your doctor with the Maternity Benefit application form, confirming the expected date of birth, the actual date of birth and the number of weeks of pregnancy.
Up to recently, if your baby was born before the date when you were due to start maternity leave, your maternity leave (which starts immediately when the baby is born) lasted for 26 weeks from the date of your baby’s birth.
For premature births on or since 1 October 2017, maternity leave is extended for an extra period after the end of this 26 weeks. (Maternity Benefit is also payable for this extra period.) It corresponds to the time period between your baby’s actual birth date and the expected start date of your maternity leave.
The following example shows how the entitlement to extra maternity leave works.
Example - baby is born in week 30
You may have planned to start your maternity leave and Maternity Benefit at week 37 of your pregnancy, 2 weeks before the end of the week when your baby was due.
Under the new rules, if your baby is born in week 30 of your pregnancy (approximately 7 weeks before you planned to go on maternity leave and start getting Maternity Benefit) you still claim maternity leave for the standard 26 weeks from the date of birth. However, you can now claim an extra 7 weeks at the end of the 26 weeks, so your maternity leave and Maternity Benefit will last until your baby is approximately 33 weeks old.
(Previously, if your baby was born in week 30 of your pregnancy, approximately 7 weeks before you planned to start taking your maternity leave and Maternity Benefit, you could only claim maternity leave and Maternity Benefit for a total of 26 weeks from the date of birth. So your maternity leave (and Maternity Benefit) would both have ended when your baby was 26 weeks old.)
Health and safety leave
An employer should carry out separate risk assessments in relation to pregnant employees and those who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. 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 as set out in the Maternity Protection (Health and Safety Leave Remuneration) Regulations, SI 20/1995. After this, Health and Safety Benefit may be paid. The Health and Safety Authority website has a list of Pregnant at Work FAQs.
Father's entitlement to maternity leave
Fathers are entitled to maternity leave if the mother dies within 40 weeks of the birth. In these circumstances, the father is entitled to a period of leave, the extent of which depends on the actual date of the mother’s death. If the mother dies within 24 weeks of the birth he has an optional right to the additional maternity leave. If the mother's death is over 24 weeks after the birth, the father is entitled to leave until 40 weeks after the birth. The leave starts within 7 days of the mother's death.
New parents (other than the mother of the child) can get 2 weeks’ statutory paternity leave from employment or self-employment following the birth or adoption of a child on or after 1 September 2016.
Postponing maternity leave
Section 7 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 provides for postponement of maternity leave in strict circumstances, that is, if your baby is hospitalised. This right to postpone leave applies whether you are on maternity leave, or on additional unpaid maternity leave. Note, your employer has the right to refuse your application to postpone your maternity leave. There are details about postponing maternity leave in 'Further information' below.
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 (pdf) after you return to work.
If you are breastfeeding, you may be entitled to some time off or a reduction in hours without loss of pay for up to 26 weeks after the birth.
If you decide not to return to work after your period of maternity leave, you are required to give your employer notice in the usual manner.
You are protected against unfair dismissal for claiming your rights under maternity protection legislation - see 'How to apply' below
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. 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.
Notice: You must give your employer at least 4 weeks' written notice of your intention to take maternity leave and you must also provide your employer with a medical certificate confirming your pregnancy. If you intend to take the additional 16 weeks’ maternity leave you must provide your employer with at least 4 weeks' written notice. Both these notices can be given at the same time.
Early birth: If your baby is born more than 4 weeks before your due date, you will have fulfilled the notice requirements if you give your employer written notice within 14 days of the birth.
Medical certification: Section 11 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 provides that if you are certified by your doctor as needing to start maternity leave for medical reasons, your maternity leave will start on the earlier date as specified on the medical certificate. In this case you are considered to have complied with the notice requirements.
Return to work: You must give your employer at least 4 weeks' written notice of your intention to return to work
It is important to comply with these notice requirements, as failure to do so may cause loss of rights.
You must notify your employer as soon as possible if you wish to postpone your maternity leave (but remember, your employer can refuse this application).
How to apply
You should apply to your employer in writing to take maternity leave.
If you need further information about maternity leave you should contact the Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Service. You can read more information in the booklet, Your Maternity Leave Rights Explained (pdf).
If you have a dispute with your employer about maternity leave or if you have been dismissed due to a matter connected with your pregnancy or for claiming your rights under maternity leave legislation, you may make a complaint within 6 months of the dispute or complaint occurring. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie. The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, but only where there is a reasonable cause which prevented the complaint being brought within the normal time limit.
At least 6 weeks before your baby's due date, you should apply to the
Maternity Benefit Section of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social
Protection for Maternity Benefit.
Where to apply
Postponing maternity leave
Section 7 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 provides for postponement of maternity leave which applies whether you are on maternity leave, or on additional unpaid maternity leave. The maximum amount of time the leave can be postponed is 6 months. Note, your employer has the right to refuse your application to postpone your maternity leave.
You may only request that your maternity leave be postponed once you have taken at least 14 weeks' maternity leave, 4 of which must have been taken after the birth. (This provision does not apply to fathers who are on maternity leave).
If you postpone your maternity leave and return to work, then you may take your leave in one block, not later than 7 days after the child has been discharged from hospital. Your employer may request a letter from the hospital, confirming the child has been hospitalised and following discharge, a letter confirming the date of discharge.
If you postpone your maternity leave and return to employment, you need to notify the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. You must notify them in writing that your child has been hospitalised and you have returned to employment. A letter from your family doctor (GP)/hospital is required to confirm to the Department that the child has been discharged from hospital and your maternity benefit should resume. Your Personal Public Service Number (PPS) Number should be clearly identified on all documents you send to the Department.
Remember, you may only apply to postpone your maternity leave if the baby has been hospitalised - not if the child is simply unwell.
Illness while on postponed maternity leave
If you have postponed your maternity leave and become ill when you return to work (before resuming your postponed leave), you may be considered to have started your resumed leave on the first day of your absence because of illness. Alternatively, you may choose to forfeit your right to resumed leave and have your leave treated as sick leave.