maternity leave benefitsIf you live in Ireland and will become a parent through birth, your first step after discovering the pregnancy should be to visit your family doctor (GP) to confirm your pregnancy.

All women living in Ireland are entitled to free maternity care, regardless of any health insurance they hold. This free care includes antenatal care, labour, hospital accommodation and postnatal follow up care.

All pregnant employees in Ireland are entitled to maternity leave. It does not matter how long you have been working for the employer or the number of hours worked per week.

A basic period of 26 weeks’ maternity leave is given if you become pregnant while working. It is important for a pregnant woman to notify her employer in writing as soon as reasonably practicable, but no later than 4 weeks before the beginning of the leave, of her intention to take the leave. She must also provide a medical certificate specifying the expected week of confinement.

According to the Maternity Protection Amendment Act 2004, you must take at least 2 of these weeks before the end of the week of your baby’s expected date of birth. Also, you must take at least 4 of these weeks after your baby’s birth. It is then up to you to decide how to divide up your remaining 20 weeks. You are also entitled to take up to a further 16 weeks’ maternity leave known as additional or unpaid maternity leave.

Your entitlement to payment from your employer during maternity leave depends on the terms of your contract of employment or on the discretion (choice) of your employer. There is no obligation on your employer to pay you during maternity leave.
Payment by the State during maternity leave is normally provided through a tax-free social welfare payment called Maternity Benefit. Some employment contracts allow for additional payment rights during the period of leave (for example: an employee might receive full pay minus the amount of Maternity Benefit she receives).

Maternity Benefit is paid to women on maternity leave from work who have sufficient social insurance (PRSI contributions). Maternity Benefit is calculated by dividing your gross earnings in the relevant tax year by the number of weeks you worked in that year.

If you qualify for Maternity Benefit

You should apply for the payment 6 weeks before you intend to go on maternity leave (12 weeks if you are self-employed).
Maternity Benefit is paid directly to you on a weekly basis into your bank or building society account. Some employers will continue to pay an employee, in full, while she is on maternity leave and require her to have any Maternity Benefit paid to them. You should check your contract of employment to see what applies to you.