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Employment law | Legal Guides

Employees have a right to leave from work for recreation, recovery from illness, or attending to personal responsibilities.

Three main types of leave are detailed in this section:

Annual leave

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out an employee's annual leave entitlements.

Employees are entitled to a minimum period of:

  • Four weeks annual leave, or
  • 1/3 of a working week per calendar month where the employee works at least 117 hours, or
  • 8% of the hours an employee works in a leave year.

An employee is also entitled to nine public holidays in a year:  

  • New Year's Day (1 January).
  • St. Patrick's Day (17 March).
  • Easter Monday.
  • First Monday in May, June, August.
  • Last Monday in October.
  • Christmas Day (25 December).
  • St. Stephen's Day (26 December).

Good Friday and Christmas eve are not public holidays. An employee’s contract of employment may also entitle him or her to longer periods of leave.

Leave entitlements

Employees are entitled to their normal weekly rate of pay during their annual leave. If an employee’s pay varies, that employee should receive the average of his or her pay over the 13 weeks before taking leave. You can find out more about annual leave entitlements, and how to calculate annual leave, on the Workplace Relations Commission website.

It is illegal for employers to pay an allowance instead of the minimum statutory annual leave entitlement, except where the employment ends and the employee has earned unused annual leave days. If an employee is leaving a job, the employer should pay him or her for any outstanding annual leave and public holidays.

Taking annual leave

An employer can decide when employees can take annual leave, subject to certain conditions such as the employee’s family responsibilities and opportunities for rest. Employers should also consult with an employee (or the employee’s union) at least one month before that employee should take leave.

In many cases, an employer will have policies allowing employees to request annual leave on days that suit them, subject to giving certain notice. This will usually be outlined in the employee’s contract of employment.

Illness on annual leave

If an employee is ill while on annual leave, these sick days do not count towards the annual leave that he or she has taken. Employees who are sick on annual leave should request a medical certificate from their GP as soon as possible, and provide this to their employer as soon as they return to work.

Annual leave and other leave

Annual leave is not affected by other leave provided for by law. If an employee is on  certified sick leave, maternity leave, adoptive leave, parental leave, force majeure leave or  the first 13 weeks of carer's leave, this time is treated as though he or she has been still working. This time can therefore be used to accumulate an employee’s annual leave entitlement.

Sick leave

Employment law does not guarantee employees a right to be paid while on sick leave. An employee’s contract of employment should set out the terms and conditions of any pay due if he or she is unable to work due to illness or injury. It may also outline the procedures to follow if an employee is sick or injured.

Illness Benefit

If an employee has enough social insurance contributions, he or she can apply for Illness Benefit from the department of Social Protection. If an employee is entitled to sick pay, the employer may require him or her to sign over any Illness Benefit payment from the Department of Social Protection to the employer for as long as the sick pay continues.

The Department of Social Protection has produced a booklet explaining how Illness Benefit is paid, and how to apply.

Medical certificates

If an employee is on sick leave, an employer can require him or her to provide a medical certificate from a GP or family doctor as per the terms of employment. The medical certificate should state the date that an employee is likely to return to work. If an employee is likely to be sick for a while, he or she may have to provide weekly medical certificates.

Injuries at work

If an employee has an accident or are injured at work, he or she can apply for Injury Benefit from the Department of Social Protection. An employee can also claim medical costs that are not paid by the Health Service Executive (HSE) or covered by Treatment Benefit Scheme.

Employees who suffer an injury at work where the employer was at fault can seek compensation. This area of law is called personal injuries. 

Leave for parents

Parents are entitled to the following types of leave:

Adoptive leave

An adoptive mother (or, in the case of a sole adoption, a father) is entitled to 24 weeks of adoptive leave, and a further 16 weeks of unpaid adoptive leave.

Pay during adoptive leave

Employees are not automatically entitled to payment from their employer during adoptive leave. However, their contract of employment may provide for it. Adoptive parents who have made enough PRSI contributions may qualify for Adoptive Benefit from the Department of Social Protection.

Holidays and PRSI credits

Adoptive parents are entitled to pay for public holidays, annual leave entitlement and PRSI credits, while on adoptive leave.

Notice of adoptive leave

Employees must give their employers at least four weeks’ notice of their intention to take adoptive leave. They must also give employers the expected date of the placement as soon as is reasonably practicable. Adoptive parents who wish to take an additional 16 weeks of unpaid adoptive leave must also give at least four weeks’ notice of this decision to their employer. This notice can be given at the same time as the initial notice of adoptive leave.

Returning to work

Adoptive parents must give their employer four weeks’ notice when they intend to return to work. Adoptive parents are entitled to return to the same job that they held immediately before taking leave. If this is not possible, an employer must offer an adoptive parent a suitable and appropriate alternative.

For more information, download a Guide to Adoptive Leave from the Workplace Relations Commission.

Maternity and Paternity leave

If an employee is pregnant while employed, she is entitled to take maternity leave.

All female employees can take maternity leave, regardless of how many hours they work per week and how long they have been working. Employees are also entitled to take additional unpaid maternity leave.

How much leave

Mothers are entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave, and 16 weeks of additional unpaid maternity leave.

At least two weeks of this leave must be taken before the expected birth date, and at least four weeks must be taken after this date. It is up to employees to decide how they would like to take the remaining leave.

Payment during maternity leave and Maternity Benefit

Employers are not obliged to pay employees on maternity leave, but some will. An employee's contract of employment should state what pay she is entitled to while on maternity leave.

Employees may qualify for Maternity Benefit. This is a Department of Social Protection payment given to employees who have sufficient PRSI contributions. Employees are automatically awarded PRSI credits while getting Maternity Benefit.

Additional maternity leave

An employee can choose to take an additional 16 weeks of maternity leave immediately after her 26-week maternity leave period. However, this is not covered by Maternity Benefit. Employers do not have to pay employees during this period unless it was previously agreed that they would do so.

Stillbirths and miscarriages

If an employee has a stillbirth or miscarriage after her 24th week of pregnancy, she is entitled to take her full maternity leave. To apply for Maternity Benefit following a stillbirth or miscarriage, an employee should provide a letter from her 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.

Health and safety

Employers should carry out separate risk assessments regarding pregnant employees and employees who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding.

If an employer identifies particular risks to these employees, the risks should be removed or the employee should be moved away from them.

If neither of these options is possible, an employer should give the employee health and safety leave from work, which can continue up to the beginning of maternity leave. Employers must pay employees their normal wages for the first three weeks of health and safety leave. After this, the employee may be entitled to Health and Safety Benefit.

Notice of maternity Leave

Employees must give employers at least four weeks of written notice of their intention to take maternity leave, and provide a medical certificate confirming their pregnancy.

Employees who intend to take an additional 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave must provide at least four weeks of written notice. This notice can be given at the same time as the initial notice of maternity leave.

If an employee's baby is born more than four weeks before the due date, she can give the employer written notice within 14 days of the birth to satisfy these requirements.

Employees must give their employer at least four weeks of written notice before they intend to return to work.

Returning to work

After completing maternity leave, employees are entitled to return to work to the same job with the same contract of employment.

If an employer cannot reasonably allow an employee to return to their job after maternity leave, the employer must provide suitable alternative work. This new position should not be on substantially less favourable terms than those of her previous job.

Otherwise, employees must be treated as if they had been at work during their maternity leave. Time spent on maternity leave (including additional maternity leave) is treated as though an employee had been in employment, and this time can be used to accumulate annual leave.

If an employee decides not to return to work after maternity leave, she must give her employee notice in the usual manner.

Paternity Leave

Parents who are not the biological mother of a child can take two weeks paternity leave. This type of leave was recently introduced under the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016. Those entitled to this leave include:

  • The father of the child.
  • The spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the mother of the child.
  • The parent of a donor-conceived child.

In the case of an adopted child, the relevant parent includes:

  • The nominated parent in the case of a married same-sex couple.
  • The spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the adopting mother or sole male adopter.

This leave extends to employees regardless of how long they have been working for the organisation or the number of hours worked per week. Employers are not obliged to pay employees who are on paternity leave. Parents with sufficient PRSI contributions may qualify for Paternity Benefit from the Department of Social Protection. 

Parental leave

Parents, or people acting in the role of parents, can take unpaid parental leave to care for children.

How much leave

Employees can take up to 18 weeks of total leave per child. Unless their employer agrees, parents of more than one child can take no more than 18 weeks of leave in a given year.

Eligibility for parental leave

An employee claiming parental leave can only do so to care for a child under the age of eight, or under the age of 16 if a child has a long-term illness.

An employee must normally have been working for an employer for at least a year before taking parental leave. If an employee’s child is very near the age threshold, and the employee has been working for an employer for between three months and a year, he or she can claim parental leave on a pro-rata basis.

Notice of parental leave

Employees must give at least six weeks’ written notice to their employer if they plan to take parental leave. This notice should be in writing, stating the starting date for the parental leave and how long the leave will last. After giving notice, an employee will have to sign a confirmation document setting out the details of the leave.

Records of parental leave

Employers must keep records of all parental leave taken by employees for eight years. Employers who fail to do this are liable for fines of up to €2000.

Returning to work

After parental leave, an employee is entitled to return to the same job as he or she had before taking leave. If this cannot be done, an employer must offer a suitable alternative.

Employees who have on parental leave are treated as if they are currently working for employment rights purposes.

For more information on parental leave, download the Workplace Relations Commission Guide to the Parental Leave Acts.