Maternity leave is a form of leave that soon-to-be and new mothers can take shortly before, and after, giving birth. This is legally defined in national employment law and can be paid, unpaid, or a mix of both. If you are employing remotely and globally, you will need to know what regulations apply in order to stay compliant and to ensure your employees are getting the best possible care.
Over 167 countries have provisions for maternity leave and benefits. This has been instrumental in closing gender wage gaps, diminishing gender work-place discrimination, and facilitating equal job-market access for women.
Unfortunately, the legal maximum length of maternity leave doesn’t tell the whole story. Legal fineprint strictly regulates who is entitled to maternity leave, when this is paid, and how often it can be taken. Instead of listing countries with the ‘best’ annual leave, here we focus on a few countries spread across the world. We break down the differences between paid and unpaid maternity leave, as well as the various entitlement restrictions.
Paid Maternity Leave and Benefits
Most maternity leave regulations ensure that employees get paid for the time they are away. This is meant to secure their jobs while they are on leave and also ensure they can care for their families.
Paid maternity leave is stipulated in a given number of days or weeks which can or must be taken. Countries vary in the legal length of paid maternity leave. They also each define how much of a salary is paid during maternity leave and whether this is paid by the employer or by national insurances.
For example, in India, paid maternity leave is fully paid by the employer, whereas in China or Japan, insurances will cover the employee’s pay during their leave.
Many European countries are known for offering the most maternity leave, such as Spain, Norway, Bulgaria, or Sweden. However, there is a lot of variation from country to country. This table compares a few countries around the world and how they pay maternity leave:
Unpaid Extended Maternity Leave and Benefits
Some countries offer additional unpaid maternity leave as an option for employees. During this time, employee rights are protected, such as to return to one’s job after the leave ends or not to be fired due to pregnancy.
In the UK, for example, employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. 39 of these weeks are paid at 90% of an employee’s salary, while the remaining weeks are not paid.
On the other hand, in Austria, only 16 weeks of maternity leave are paid by Austrian social insurances. However, as soon as these 16 weeks are over, parental leave can kick in, which can be taken until the child’s 2nd birthday. This means roughly 796 days of leave in total, during which time the same protective rights apply as during maternity leave. During parental leave, childcare allowance is paid by employers, taxes, and public insurances. Employees will have the choice of 5 payment options for this period.
Gaining access to maternity leave can be a bureaucratic hassle for both employees and employers. As always, who is entitled to maternity leave and maternity pay is determined differently from country to country.
In Norway, an employee has to be receiving pensionable income for 6 of the last 10 months before taking benefits. The annual income of the last year of employment must be at least 50,676NKR. This is similar in Brazil, where all employees paying into the national health insurance fund will receive maternity leave and pay.
Notice periods and proof of pregnancy, while not universal, are also very important and worth watching out for. Not following or providing these can hinder access to maternity leave and benefits. In the UK, for example, maternity leave and maternity pay are treated separately. An employee is entitled to maternity leave if they give the correct notice at least 15 weeks before the due date. To be eligible for maternity pay, employees must earn at least 120GBP a week on average, give at least 28 days notice, AND provide proof of pregnancy. In addition, they must have worked for the same employer continuously for 26 weeks.
To cut a long story short: it is not enough to know how many days people can have off for maternity leave. As an employer, you will need to know whether you or the state are paying maternity benefits, how employees will be paid, whether they are entitled to additional unpaid leave, and what restrictions to entitlement there are.