Six months' paid leave for new fathers 'not realistic for most small businesses'
Small businesses fear that generous new paternity leave entitlements will divide the workforce into the haves and have-nots.
Guinness-owner Diageo has altered the landscape on paternity leave by offering all male employers six months off when they have a baby.
This matches the maternity benefit for women, and could set the bar for other major companies.
But representatives of small businesses described the 26-week paid paternity leave as "distorting reality".
Yesterday, Matt O'Connor, of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), said this was "fantastic" news for Guinness employees, but added male employees in small businesses would have little hope of six months' paid paternity leave.
"There is no evidence to support the idea that by and large any SME would be able to support employees being out of the office for six months. This distorts the reality of what the 130,000-plus SMEs in Ireland can provide to employees," he said.
Barbara McGrath, managing director of Brightwater Recruitment, praised Diageo for its move but said it would be a "big ask" for smaller companies.
"I would commend them, but think every single company is different," she said.
"Diageo is a worldwide multinational and SMEs are only beginning to see the light of day after the recession and it would be a very big ask.
"It will be attractive to a lot of parents and put pressure on small businesses, but it won't be one size fits all."
But she said that "people are definitely looking at jobs and it's not all about pay. It's about work-life balance".
The plan comes as the country is close to full employment, with a record 2.3 million people in work, and unemployment is at the lowest level in 14 years.
Groups representing smaller businesses have previously warned of the strain that companies will face to find replacement staff during paternity leave. However, trade unions reacted positively to the news that Guinness is to offer new fathers six months' paid paternity leave.
A spokesperson for Siptu said the news was "very welcome".
Ireland's largest trade union said it was seeing some multinational companies offering 16 weeks of paid paternity leave, so "26 weeks is very much welcomed".
David Joyce, equality and international development officer at employee representative body Ictu, said Diageo's move was "a very positive development".