PARENTS will be entitled to take an extra four weeks off work to care for their children when rules governing parental leave are amended next year.
Currently each parent can take 14 weeks' unpaid leave in respect of a child up to the age of eight.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter announced that the Government is drafting a new Family Leave Bill which will raise this to a minimum of 18 weeks. It follows an EU directive issued in 2010 which must be transposed into law by each member state by March 8 next year.
The directive also allows for an employee, on returning to work after a period of parental leave, to request a change in their working patterns. However, this is at the discretion of the employer.
Employers body IBEC said the Government needs to take a "conservative approach" when transposing the directive into Irish law.
"While such leave is a fact of life in any modern economy, it will have to be facilitated in a balanced way," said IBEC's Brendan McGinty, who pointed out that employers may have to incur extra costs accommodating a longer period of parental leave.
Mr Shatter said the new Bill, which grants parental leave to all workers regardless of whether they are part-time or on temporary contracts, will also consolidate all existing family leave legislation into one "accessible Act."
"The directive increases the amount of parental leave available to each parent per child from 14 to 18 weeks. This change has a positive impact on parents, for women in particular, facilitating their participation in the labour force and in protecting their right to resume employment after parental leave," he added.
Parental leave may be transferred from one parent to the other, but only on condition that each parent retains at least one of their four months of leave.
Individual EU member states can decide whether the leave can be taken on a piecemeal or part-time basis or whether it must be taken in one block of time.
They can also make parental leave subject to a length of service qualification, although this cannot exceed one year.
When a parent returns to work, they have the right to return to the same job they had been doing. If that is not possible they must be offered an equivalent job.
They cannot be selected for dismissal or treated less favourably.