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Better work-life balance for EU parents and carers

The EU Work – Life Balance Directive, which recently came into force, has the aim of creating a better labour environment, and equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work, and thus enabling “the reconciliation of work and family life for workers who are parents or carers”.

EU Work – Life Balance Directive

Directive (EU) 2019/1158 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU (the “Directive”) has come into force, setting a deadline of 2 August 2022 for the transposition of its provisions into the national legislations of the EU Member States.

It is estimated that the Directive, and the relevant transposition legislation in the Member States, will bring about major changes with regard to flexibility at work and to the leave that workers may take under certain conditions, which employers should prepare for ahead of time.

The purpose of the Directive is to lay down minimum requirements across all EU Member States in order to achieve equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities and treatment at work, and thus enable “the reconciliation of work and family life for workers who are parents or carers”.

In doing so, it treats two major aspects: the minimum days of certain leave that workers who are parents and carers may take and flexible working arrangements for such workers.

Among the novelties of the Directive, it is important to note the minimum 10 working days of paid paternity leave that “fathers” or “equivalent second parents” (according to the relevant national law with regard to same-sex marriages) will be able to take on the occasion of the birth of the worker’s child. Similar provisions already exist in national laws, but the number of days of paternity leave may currently be under the threshold stipulated by the Directive.

Furthermore, the Directive establishes for workers an individual right to parental leave of at least 4 months, that is to be taken before the child reaches a specified age, according to the national legislation, up to the age of eight. Out of these 4 months, Member States will have to ensure in the transposition legislation that two months of parental leave cannot be transferred between parents, and will be paid.

Another novelty that the Directive brings about (at least with respect to the current provisions of the laws of certain Member States) refers to the concept of a worker who is a “carer”, meaning that such carer provides “personal care and support to a relative or to a person who lives in the same household as the worker”, needing significant care and support for a “serious medical reason”. In the case of such workers, a right of five working days per year of carers’ leave must be ensured. In addition, in this respect, the Directive allows Member States to allocate such leave for other time periods, per person in need of care or support or per case.

The Directive also introduces the concept of time off from work on grounds of force majeure, for urgent family reasons in case of illness or accident, without setting a minimum requirement of days in this respect.

Equally, another means whereby the Directive seeks to ensure work-life balance for certain workers who are parents and carers is flexible working arrangements. Workers in this situation will be able to address requests for such leave to employers, while the latter will be bound to answer such requests and provide reasons for their refusal or for the postponement of such requests.

The Directive expressly lays down the principle of non-discrimination of workers who have taken or applied for the leave regulated in its provisions, and in particular, protection from dismissals.

In addition, the Directive expressly provides for the obligation of Member States to lay down in their national legislation penalties for employers that infringe the relevant provisions.

As an important aspect, the Directive also lays down a positive obligation for Member States that the relevant national measures will be disseminated to employers (including employers that are SMEs) and workers, by adequate means.

In addition to the transposition deadline mentioned above (i.e., 2 August 2022), the Directive also provides for the obligation of Member States to comply with another deadline (i.e., 2 August 2027) for communicating information to the European Commission on the implementation of the Directive, based on which the Commission will draft an assessment report.