Irish Employment Law: Baby I’m Back! Returning to Work after Maternity Leave

irish employment lawIrish Employment Law: Ok, you’ve had the baby and you’ve enjoyed your maternity leave. Now it’s time to get ‘back to work’….. (I know, I know… ‘back to work’…. as if you’ve been sitting around watching Oprah everyday for six months). But the point is, for most women, once maternity leave ends the time comes to get back into the workforce.

While most women are up to speed on their maternity rights and entitlements in terms of how much time off work they’re entitled to under Irish employment law, we find many women are unsure of their rights when their period of leave ends and they go back to their jobs.
I will preface this by saying that without a doubt these are difficult times for businesses. And it’s not surprising that for many women who are absent from their place of employment for 6 months, when they do return to their job they find things have changed dramatically…. wages have been cut, hours may have been reduced and staff may have been let go. But it’s essential you know where you stand in the midst of all this chaos. So what exactly are your rights under Irish employment law when your maternity leave ends and you re-enter the workforce.

Irish Employment Law: Your Rights

It’s important to be aware that, under Irish Employment Law, you must give your employer at least four weeks written notice of your intention to return to work. Failure to do this can affect your rights under Irish employment law. So even if you’ve spoken to your employer and told them you’re coming back, put pen to paper and put it in writing. It’s important.

Under the Maternity Protection Act 1994 you are entitled to return to work to the same job with the same contract of employment. If this is not reasonably practicable, your employer must provide you with suitable alternative work. This new position should not be on terms substantially less favourable than those of your previous job. Aside from this, you are entitled to be treated as if you had been at work during your maternity leave.

Under Irish employment law, your employment conditions cannot be worsened simply by the fact that you have taken maternity leave.

In addition if pay or other conditions have improved while you have been on maternity leave then you are also entitled to these benefits when you return to work.

So in simple terms, under Irish employment law, you should be in the same position as you were before you went on maternity leave… with the caveat, that if things have gotten better for staff while you’ve been out, you should also benefit from these improvements.

Enforcing your rights under Irish Employment Law

If you get back to work and your rights are not being respected, talk to your solicitor to see where you stand under Irish employment law. It may be a case that you need to assert your rights with your employer. Disputes may be made to a Rights Commissioner within six months of the date of the dispute occurring. This time period can be extended in exceptional circumstances.

It’s important to also know that if you have been dismissed from your job due to a matter connected with your pregnancy or for asserting your rights under Irish employment law, in particular the Maternity Protection Act 1994, you can take a case under equality and/or unfair dismissals legislation and you may refer your case to either a Rights Commissioner or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The reality at the moment is that many women returning to work after maternity leave feel that really, they are lucky to have any job at all and even if they are being treated unfairly, they don’t want to rock the boat.

As a professional business woman and a mother myself, I can relate to the insecurities many women have when it comes to going back to work: What if they got on fine without me? What if they let me go for making a complaint?

Let’s park the “what ifs.” The transition to parenthood is tough for everyone …. mothers and fathers. When you go back to work there is undoubtedly a period of adjustment.

But remember – You had the baby, you took the maternity leave, you’re entitled to get back to work. This is protected under Irish employment law. And it’s protected for a reason.

Find out more about Irish employment law.

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