New parental leave regulations will come into effect on September 1.
Employees will be entitled to 22 weeks unpaid parental leave which is an additional 4 weeks on current entitlements. This will then increase a further 4 weeks to 26 weeks from 1 September 2020.
The new Parental Leave Act also increases the maximum age of the child for whom parental leave can be taken, from 8 years to 12 years.
Melanie Crowley, Head of Employment and Benefits at Mason Hayes and Curran, said the regulations allow for parental leave to be taken in blocks, but most employers come to arrangements with employees allowing them take a day a week if that is the employee's preference.
"What the legislation provides for, is that the leave will be taken in one block or in blocks of not less than 6 weeks. It's only then with the consent of the employer that the employee can take a day a week, or something like that," she said.
A survey of 400 companies conducted by business group, Ibec, found 81% of employers do agree to fragmented parental leave.
For businesses, Ms Crowley does not believe the extension to parental leave will be difficult to implement. "I think any absence is difficult for an employer to manage whether that is sick leave or maternity leave or parental leave. This increase is not enormous. The entitlement was already there. The implementation should already be there, it is just a slight tweak to existing provisions."
It is not known how many employees avail of parental leave because it is an arrangement between an employer and an employee, and there is no obligation to notify the State.
Anecdotally, parental leave is taken by more women than men. "Parental leave is often something that is tagged on to the end of maternity leave or it is something that a woman takes, reducing her week to a 4 day week."
Under the Government's Parental Leave Scheme, employees will also be able to avail of two week's paid parental leave benefit during the first 12 months of their baby's life. This change is to take effect from November 2019.