New employment rights about unpaid leave for medical care and breastfeeding breaks

A new act about unpaid leave for medical care and breastfeeding breaks has been brought into effect from 3 July 2023, brought in as part of the recently passed Work Life Balance Act 2023.

Those new employment rights gives workers five days unpaid leave if they have to take time off work to deal with serious medical care for a child or other relevant person. Unpaid leave for medical care is not the same as force majeure leave, which is paid leave for an urgent family reason, such as the unexpected injury or illness of a ‘close family member’.

Workers have a right to five days leave for medical care in any 12 consecutive months. This is the legal minimum. They don’t have to take the leave all at once. It can be taken as a single day, or multiple days together but cannot be taken in periods of less than one day. If you take a few hour’s leave, for example, it is still counted as one day.

Minister O’Gorman, who announced the commencement date for the new employment entitlements, said: “The new right to leave for medical care purposes will give parents and carers access to a flexible short-term form of unpaid leave, providing certainty at difficult moments, should they need it.”

Who can apply for unpaid leave for medical care?

Workers can apply for the leave to care or support their child, spouse or civil partner, cohabitant, parent or grandparent, brother or sister, or housemate.

The person must need significant care or support for a serious medical reason. The worker does not need any minimum service with their employer to take this leave. 

The employer is allowed to ask for relevant evidence of the medical need for the leave. It can be a medical certificate signed by a doctor, stating that the person named in the certificate was, or is, in need of significant care or support because of a serious medical condition. The employer can also require other evidence that proves that the person concerned was or is in need of significant care or support for a serious medical condition. However, it is not required to explain the nature of the medical condition.

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New employment rights about Breastfeeding breaks 

As part of the legislation, the entitlement to breastfeeding breaks will be extended from the current period of six months – a time which coincides with maternity leave – up to two years.

“The Work Life Balance Act” is about helping make sure that our work lives reflect the reality of our personal lives, particularly for parents and carers. By extending breastfeeding breaks to two years after the birth of the child, we can support women returning to work after maternity leave to continue to breastfeed, in line with best practices from a public health perspective. Normalising breastfeeding in the workplace is of benefit to mothers, babies and wider society, explained Minister O’Gorman.

Employers can allow breastfeeding in the workplace or somewhere where mothers can express breast milk, where suitable facilities are available in the workplace. They can also allow reduced working hours (without loss of pay) to facilitate breastfeeding wherever the worker wants to go.

All women or birthing parents who are working and breastfeeding their baby are entitled to take time off work each day to breastfeed. This applies to those in employment who have given birth within the previous 2 years (104 weeks). Employers are not required to provide facilities in the workplace to help breastfeeding if providing such facilities would involve huge costs for the company. 



Breastfeeding workers can have one hour off work (with pay) each day as a breastfeeding break for up to two years (104 weeks) after birth. Breaks can be taken as one 60 minute break, two 30 minute breaks or three 20 minute breaks.

Breaks can be longer and more frequent if it is agreed between the employer and the employee. Part-time workers are also allowed breastfeeding breaks, calculated on a pro-rata basis.

Marylou Prevost
Marylou Prevost

After a Master's degree in journalism and one year as a journalist in France, I landed in Dublin to write for Babylon Radio. I mostly love writing about cultural events in Ireland.

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