Women entitled to 26 weeks leave


Women are entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave. During the first 18 weeks, women with sufficient PRSI contributions may receive maternity benefit from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. The remaining eight weeks are unpaid and at the employee's expense.

Employees must take at least four weeks' leave before the end of the week in which the baby is due and four weeks after that week. During the pregnancy and for the 14-week period immediately following the birth, employees are entitled to time off without loss of pay for ante-natal and post-natal medical visits. The father is entitled to leave in the event of the death of the mother within 14 weeks of the birth of the child.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act requires employers to conduct a risk assessment of the workplace in relation to pregnant employees, employees who have recently given birth and employees who are breastfeeding.

If a risk is identified, it must be removed or the employee should be able to transfer to suitable alternative work. If neither option is available, the employee is entitled to health and safety leave. If an employee is certified by her doctor as unfit for night work, she may not be obliged to undertake night work.

Employees have the right to return to work in the same employment and under the same conditions. If an employee is sacked due to her pregnancy or because she exercised her rights under the Maternity Protection Act, it is deemed to be an unfair dismissal.

Last week, a woman whose job was advertised after she told her employer she was pregnant was awarded €12,500 by the Labour Court.

The woman was a graphic designer with Pendrix Display, with responsibility for the company's poster department. In May 2000, two months after she started work, she told her employer of her pregnancy and of her intention to take her entitlement to maternity leave from November 24th.

Two weeks later, her position was advertised and she was offered an alternative position on the floor doing shop work. She rejected this, as it was not relevant to her skills. The company then offered her clerical work, which she initially accepted before resigning.

Although the company did not dismiss the woman, the Labour Court found that advertising her position without consulting her after the announcement of her pregnancy entitled her to claim that she was constructively dismissed.

Laura Slattery