Maternity leave

Introduction

If you become pregnant while you are in employment, you have the right to take 26 weeks’ maternity leave. You can take this time off work from full-time, casual or part-time employment, no matter how long you have been working for your employer.

If you have enough social insurance (PRSI) contributions, you are entitled to Maternity Benefit (including self-employed). You also have the right to take up to 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave, but it is not covered by Maternity Benefit. You must take at least 2 weeks’ maternity leave before your baby is due, and at least 4 weeks after the baby is born.

The legislation laws covering this leave are the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004.

Rules about maternity leave

Payment during maternity leave

Social welfare: You may be able to get Maternity Benefit from the Department of Social Protection (DEASP) if you have enough PRSI contributions.

Your employer: In general, employers do not have to pay women who are on maternity leave.

You should check your contract of employment to see whether you are entitled to pay and pension contributions from your employer during your maternity leave.

Your contract could give you the right to pay from your employer in addition to Maternity Benefit while you are on maternity leave. For example, your employer may top up the amount you get from Maternity Benefit to match your normal pay.

What happens to my PRSI contributions?

When you get Maternity Benefit, you will automatically get PRSI credits. To continue getting credits while you are on unpaid additional maternity leave, you must ask your employer to complete an application form for maternity leave credits (pdf) after you return to work.

Can I take additional maternity leave?

You can take additional maternity leave for up to 16 more weeks, beginning immediately after the end of your 26 weeks’ basic maternity leave. Maternity Benefit does not cover additional maternity leave, and your employer does not have to pay you during this time.

If you become ill while you are on additional maternity leave, you may ask your employer if you can end the additional maternity leave. If they agree, they will treat you as being on sick leave. You may then qualify for Illness Benefit. However, you cannot take the rest of your additional maternity leave later – see ‘More information on postponing maternity leave’ below.

Public holidays and annual leave

In general, you are treated as being in employment while you are on maternity leave or additional maternity leave. This means you can continue to build up your entitlement to annual leave. You are also entitled to leave for any public holidays that occur during your maternity leave (including additional maternity leave).

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 you can take the basic 26 weeks’ maternity leave and 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave. If you have enough PRSI contributions, you can get Maternity Benefit for the 26 weeks’ 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. The letter must state the expected date of birth, the actual date of birth and the number of weeks of pregnancy.

Premature births

If your baby is born before the date when you are due to start maternity leave, you can take extra maternity leave. You get 26 weeks’ leave, starting from the day your baby is born, plus extra leave for the number of weeks between your baby’s actual date of birth and the date you had planned to start your maternity leave. Maternity Benefit is payable for the whole of this extended maternity leave.

Example – Your baby is born in week 30

Trish planned to start her maternity leave and Maternity Benefit at week 37 of her pregnancy, which was 2 weeks before the end of the week when her baby was due.

However, her baby was born in week 30 of her pregnancy – 7 weeks before she planned to go on maternity leave and start getting Maternity Benefit. She got maternity leave for the basic 26 weeks from the date of birth and an extra 7 weeks at the end of those 26 weeks. So Trish’s basic maternity leave and Maternity Benefit lasted until her baby was about 33 weeks old.

When can I take health and safety leave?

Your employer should carry out separate risk assessments when you are pregnant, have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. They should either remove any risks or move you away from them. If these options are not possible, they should give you health and safety leave from work. If you are pregnant, health and safety leave may continue until you go on maternity leave.

During health and safety leave, you get your normal wages for the first 3 weeks. After this, you may get Health and Safety Benefit from the DEASP, depending on your PRSI contributions. The Health and Safety Authority website has a list of Pregnant at Work FAQs.

Can fathers take maternity leave?

Fathers can take maternity leave if the mother dies within 40 weeks of the birth. If she dies within 24 weeks of the birth, he can choose to take the 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave. If the mother dies more than 24 weeks after the birth, the father can take maternity leave up until 40 weeks after the birth. The leave starts within 7 days of the mother’s death.

What other leave can parents take?

Various types of statutory leave are available for parents. You may be entitled to:

  • Parental leave: Gives parents the right to take 26 weeks’ unpaid leave from work to look after their children aged under 12
  • Paternity leave: New parents (other than the mother of the child) can take 2 weeks’ leave in the first 6 months after the baby is born or adopted
  • Parent’s leave: Gives parents the right to take 2 weeks’ leave to look after their children aged under 1
  • Adoptive leave: For men adopting alone and adoptive mothers
  • Force majeure leave: For people who need to take time off work urgently because of an injury or illness of a close family member
  • Carer’s leave: For people who need to take time off work to provide full-time care for someone who needs it, for a while

You can get an overview of all the types of leave in our document on leave available to parents.

Can I postpone maternity leave if my baby goes into hospital?

You may be able to postpone, or delay, maternity leave if your baby goes into hospital (but not if they are simply unwell).

You should apply to your employer if you want to postpone maternity leave (or additional maternity leave) and go back to work while your baby is in hospital. Your employer has the right to refuse.

Fathers who are on maternity leave cannot postpone it.

To request that your maternity leave is postponed, you must have taken at least 14 weeks’ maternity leave, including 4 weeks after the birth. You can go back to work and postpone your maternity leave for up to 6 months.

If you postpone your maternity leave and return to work until the baby comes out of hospital, then you may take your remaining leave in one block. It must start within 7 days of the baby being discharged from hospital. Your employer may ask the hospital to confirm in writing that the baby has gone into hospital and then to confirm the date of discharge.

If you postpone your maternity leave and go back to work, you must write to tell the DEASP, who will suspend your Maternity Benefit. When the baby is discharged, your GP or hospital doctor must write to tell the DEASP. You should then start getting Maternity Benefit again. All documents you send to the DEASP must show your Personal Public Service number (PPS number).

What happens if I get sick while on postponed maternity leave?

If go back to work after postponing your maternity leave and then need time off because you become ill, then either:

  • Your employer may consider you to have gone back on maternity leave on the first day you are off sick, or
  • You can choose to give up your right to take the rest of your maternity leave, so that you are treated as being on sick leave.

Can I return to my old job after maternity leave?

You are treated as being in employment while you are on maternity leave and additional maternity leave. This means that you have the right to return to work to the same job with the same contract of employment. If this is too difficult to arrange, your employer must provide suitable alternative work on terms that are not ‘less favourable’ than in your previous job.

If pay or other conditions have improved while you have been on maternity leave, then you should get the improvements when you return to work.

If you decide not to return to work after your period of maternity leave, you must give your employer notice in the usual way, as set out in your contract. You can read more in our document on giving notice.

Breastfeeding: You may be able to take some time off, or work fewer hours, without loss of pay for up to 26 weeks after the birth if you are breastfeeding.

Dismissal: Maternity legislation protects you from unfair dismissal. If you have a dispute with your employer over maternity rights, you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission. See ‘Disputes and complaints’ in the section on 'How to apply' below.

Can I take time off for medical visits?

While you are pregnant, you can take reasonable time off for medical visits connected with the pregnancy. You can take as much time off as you need for these visits, including the time for travelling to and from the appointment and for the appointment itself.

You must give your employer a note from your doctor to confirm the pregnancy, and give 2 weeks’ notice of your medical visits. You should show your appointment card if your employer asks to see it at any time after your first appointment.

You may also take time off for medical visits, for up to 14 weeks after the birth. You have the right to be paid while keeping these medical appointments, both before and after the birth.

Can I take time off for antenatal classes?

You can take paid time off work to attend some antenatal classes. Your entitlement is for one set of antenatal classes except for the last 3 classes of the set. Fathers can take paid time off to attend the last 2 antenatal classes immediately before the birth.

How to apply for maternity leave

Maternity leave: You should apply to your employer in writing at least 4 weeks before you want to start maternity leave. See ‘Notice of Leave’ below.

Maternity Benefit: You should apply for Maternity Benefit to the Maternity Benefit Section of the DEASP at least 6 weeks before you intend to go on maternity leave. See ‘Where to apply’ below.

How much notice must I give my employer?

Notice of leave: You must give your employer at least 4 weeks' written notice that you plan to take maternity leave and must provide a medical certificate confirming your pregnancy.

You must also give at least 4 weeks’ written notice if you want to take the 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave. You can give both these notices at the same time.

Early birth: If your baby is born more than 4 weeks before your due date, you must tell your employer in writing within 14 days after the birth. No other notice is needed.

Medical certificate: If your doctor states on a medical certificate that you must start maternity leave for medical reasons at an earlier date than planned, your maternity leave will start on that date. No other notice is needed.

Return to work: You must give your employer at least 4 weeks’ written notice that you intend to return to work.

If you do not comply with these notice requirements, you may lose your rights.

Applying to postpone your leave: You must ask your employer as soon as possible if you wish to postpone your maternity leave. Your employer can refuse this request.

How to make a complaint

If you have a dispute about maternity leave or have been dismissed in connection with pregnancy or maternity leave, you can make a complaint within 6 months of the dispute or complaint occurring. The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, but only if you have a good reason for not bringing the complaint within the normal time limit.

You must use the online complaint form on workplacerelations.ie.

If you need more information about your rights and maternity leave, contact the Workplace Relations Commission’s Information and Customer Service. You can read more information in the booklet, Your Maternity Leave Rights Explained (pdf).

Where to apply

Workplace Relations Commission - Information and Customer Service

O'Brien Road
Carlow
R93 E920

Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 1890 80 80 90

Maternity Benefit Section

Department of Social Protection

McCarter's Road
Buncrana
Donegal
Ireland
F93 CH79

Tel: (01) 471 5898
Locall: 1890 690 690 (Note: the rates charged for using 1890 (Lo-call) numbers may vary)

Page edited: 28 September 2020