What are my legal rights when going on maternity leave?

Almost ready to request maternity leave? Congratulations! What an exciting time! If you, like so many others, are a little confused about your legal rights with regard to maternity leave and pregnancy in the workplace…. One of our amazing coaches, Aisling Healy, is here to help!

Your Entitlements by Law

The law under which you are protected is the Maternity Protection Act 1994 – 2004. Your entitlements are as follows: 

  • 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave. Check your policies at work and find out if your employer pays full salary on maternity leave. (Note – This is not mandatory for the employer to pay, but it is mandatory to grant this amount of leave). You may be entitled to social protection payment so make sure to enquire with your local welfare office or online @gov.ie 
  • 16 weeks’ additional unpaid maternity leave
  • Time off for antenatal classes 
  • Time off for antenatal and post-natal care 
  • Health and Safety Leave
  • Protection against dismissal 
  • Stop additional maternity leave with the employer’s agreement if the mother becomes sick (and then the sick pay policy would be initiated) 

You are covered by this Act if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are employed under a contract of service 
  • You are an apprentice or agency worker
  • You are on probation, temporary employee, or part-time employee

You are entitled to paid time off while working: 

  • To receive antenatal or post-natal care 
  • Attend pregnancy – related appointments (no limit)
  • Antenatal Classes (one set of antenatal classes in total) 

You must give notice of all medical appointments and antenatal classes to your employer during your pregnancy in writing with the time and date of the appointment, as soon as possible but at least two weeks before the appointment. Your employer can ask for an appropriate document showing the date and time of the appointment.

Health and Safety at work requirements

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Pregnant Employees) regulations obliges an employer to assess any risk to the safety or health of any pregnant employee, an employee who is breastfeeding or an employee who has recently given birth. The assessment should assess and identify any risks within workplace conditions that may put you or your baby’s health at risk. If there is a risk or it’s not possible for your employer to do this, you must be provided with alternative work.

Your maternity entitlements: 

  • 26 weeks paid leave in a row and 16 weeks additional unpaid leave in a row which must begin immediately after the maternity leave ends
  • You can choose the time that your maternity leave starts but it must be at least two weeks before the baby is due and take four weeks after the baby is born 
  • You must give notice to your employer before going on maternity leave. It is best to do this as soon as possible but minimum 4 weeks before the beginning of your maternity leave
  • You are required to produce a medical cert to your employer confirming your pregnancy and due date
  • If you wish to take the additional unpaid maternity leave, you must give notice to your employer via writing as soon as possible but 4 weeks before taking the additional paid leave (i.e. the date you were due to return to work) 
  • If your baby arrives earlier than your expected maternity leave is due to begin you would begin your 26 weeks on the day the baby is born
  • If you become ill while on unpaid maternity leave, you may wish to end the unpaid leave and go on sick leave (you may be entitled to illness benefit, check this with your local social welfare office). You must request this with your employer in writing to end this unpaid leave

Your employment rights

While on maternity leave, you will be treated the same as if you were still there which is required by law. If you are on probation, probation is suspended for the duration of your maternity leave and will resume when you return. You will continue to accrue annual leave while on maternity leave (both paid and unpaid) including public holidays. You are also protected under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011 where you cannot be dismissed on the grounds of pregnancy. If you feel this has been the case for you, you can bring a claim under this act. 

The above points are an overview of your rights and entitlements by law when going on maternity leave. It is important to remain aware of your rights to ensure you are not mistreated in any way while pregnant or on maternity leave. 

Aisling is an experienced HR & Recruitment Professional, Career Coach and a Certified Life Coach. She specialises as a Work-Life Balance Coach to help you in all areas of your working life from CV preparation, interview and application training to Coaching Clarity Sessions, helping you set Career Goals and giving you all the tools necessary to achieve them while also focusing on all things life related such as Life Goals, managing conflict, improving self-confidence – to name a few. Aisling will help you achieve your goals and create a positive mindset when working towards them.

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