What Is Maternity Leave? Everything You Should Know

Maternity leave regulations are different in every single country, so staying compliant when building a global team can be challenging. Let us guide you through it.

What Is Maternity Leave? Everything You Should Know
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Maternity leave is a compulsory employee benefit in almost every country, but its application isn’t always the same. The length of leave, amount of maternity pay, and specific prerequisites differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If you’re hiring globally, you need to understand all the applicable regulations to remain compliant - and that can be hard to do alone.

In this guide, you’ll find comprehensive answers to all your questions about maternity leave, including:

  • What does “maternity leave” mean?
  • Who’s entitled to it?
  • Is maternity leave paid?
  • How long does it last?
  • How do you manage maternity leave on a global scale efficiently?

Why You Need To Manage International Maternity Leave Effectively

If you’re new to hiring international talent, you’ll soon discover providing benefits to a global team can be challenging and time-consuming. Each country and jurisdiction has its own labor laws and regulations you must follow; maternity leave is just one of them.

As a global business, you need to understand all the intricacies of providing maternity leave on an international scale to attract and retain talent and remain compliant. This includes costs, duration, employee prerequisites, and other employer obligations. If you don’t comply, you risk fines or legal action - and employee retention may suffer too!

Thankfully, working with a trusted global employment partner like Omnipresent can help you manage maternity (and parental) leave with ease. Skip to the end of this article to find out how.

Maternity Leave Meaning

Maternity leave is a type of leave that mothers or birthing parents typically take shortly before and after giving birth. In some cases, it applies when adopting a child too. Maternity leave is defined in local employment law and differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It may be paid, unpaid, or paid in part.

The purpose of maternity leave is to give new mothers adequate time to give birth, recover, care for, and bond with their new baby before returning to work. During this time, the employer has a legal obligation to hold the employee’s job.

In addition to statutory leave, some employers may offer employees additional maternity benefits within their employment contracts. This could involve additional payments or extended maternity leave, for example.

Who Is Entitled to Maternity Leave?

In many countries, maternity leave is available to biological mothers and those adopting or fostering children.

However, there are often prerequisites that an employee must meet in order to qualify for statutory maternity leave.

These eligibility criteria may include:

  • The employee’s length of continuous service with their employer.
  • The employee’s contribution to certain state funds, such as national insurance.
  • The employer’s size (e.g., number of employees in the company).

Sometimes notice periods and proof of pregnancy are required too.

Are Fathers Entitled to Maternity Leave?

Fathers and secondary caregivers may be entitled to paternity leave or parental leave instead of maternity leave. The length of paternity and parental leave differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it’s typically less than maternity leave.

In some countries, like the UK, parents may be able to share parental leave, meaning each spends a period of time off work to look after their new baby. In some cases, parental leave can be taken to look after older children too, sometimes up to the age of 18.

“Family leave” is a phrase that encompasses maternity, paternity, parental, and adoption leave. Many employers opt to take a more inclusive approach to family leave, allowing primary and secondary caregivers to take paid leave regardless of their gender. This typically goes above and beyond statutory requirements and aims to foster a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Companies offering gender-inclusive or gender-neutral parental leave may benefit from increased employee engagement and retention - and it may even help you attract more diverse talent.

Do Employees Get Paid During Maternity Leave?

In the vast majority of countries, employees receive some form of maternity pay or allowance during their leave. However, it’s worth noting there’s often a difference between maternity leave and maternity pay. As a result, employees may only receive maternity pay for part of their entitled leave.

On the other hand, the US doesn’t include any legal provision for paid maternity leave. It does mandate 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid maternity leave, but only 60% of workers are eligible. Similarly, Papua New Guinea offers no statutory maternity pay, opting for just six weeks of unpaid leave instead.

Who Pays for Maternity Leave?

Local regulations determine who pays for maternity pay - either the employer, the state (through social security), or a combination of the two.

In Nigeria, for example, maternity pay is paid entirely by the employer, whereas in Spain, Norway, and France, it’s paid by social security.

The UK is an example of a country that uses a mixture of public funds and employer liability to pay for maternity leave. Employers are responsible for paying Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) to their employees through payroll, but they can often reclaim 92% of it back from HMRC, the UK tax authority.

If you’re looking to hire the best talent, you may choose to offer more than statutory pay for your employees. This enables new parents to be able to afford to take sufficient time off to recover and look after their new child. Other benefits of offering comprehensive paid parental leave are:

  • Improved retention
  • Better talent acquisition
  • Increased employee engagement

How Is Maternity Leave Calculated?

Maternity pay is calculated differently in every jurisdiction. It will typically be a percentage of the employee’s previous salary or a predefined recurring lump sum.

In some countries, like Austria, employees on maternity leave receive 100% of their previous salary for the full duration of statutory leave, but this is pretty uncommon. According to the OECD, the majority of its member countries provide maternity payments that replace over 50% of an employee’s previous earnings.

Calculating maternity pay for variable pay employees, such as salespeople, adds another level of complexity to the matter. Commission and bonus schemes may or may not be included in calculations depending on various factors, so where uncertain you may wish to consider seeking professional advice in this scenario.

Do Employees Receive Employee Benefits While on Maternity Leave?

You may be wondering if you’re required to provide regular employee benefits, like annual leave, meal vouchers, and health insurance while your employee is on maternity leave. The answer is complex and depends on where your employee is based, so you’ll need to approach it on a country-by-country basis.

In the UK, for example, employees are entitled to all their usual rights and contractual benefits during paid maternity leave, except for wages.

While the US doesn’t have legal provisions for paid maternity leave on a national level, employers are still required to continue health coverage for employees on FMLA leave.

Employee benefits are treated differently in every country, even outside of maternity leave, so you’ll need to consult a local expert or partner with a global employment provider like Omnipresent to ensure you remain compliant.

Hand holding a baby's hand

How Long Is Maternity Leave?

Again, the length of maternity leave differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Maternity Protection Convention mandates a minimum leave period of 14 weeks (with cash benefit) but recommends leave of at least 18 weeks. The average maternity leave among OECD countries is 18 weeks, including pay.

Many countries also offer job-protected maternity leave without pay, which employees can take after paid maternity leave ends. In the UK, for example, mothers are entitled to 39 weeks of maternity pay but can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave in total.

Bulgaria offers one of the most generous maternity leave provisions globally, with 58.6 weeks of leave at 90% of the average wage. On the other end of the spectrum, the US offers 0 weeks of paid maternity leave, with just 12 weeks of unpaid statutory leave.

When Does Maternity Leave Start?

Maternity leave often starts before the employee has given birth. While some jurisdictions enforce specific start dates for maternity leave, others do not. For example, in Austria, mothers must start leave eight weeks before the baby’s due date.

Maternity Leave FAQs for Employees

We’ve answered some of the most common questions employers ask about providing maternity leave, so here are some FAQs for employees too.

How Do You Apply for Maternity Leave?

If you’re eligible for maternity leave in your country, you typically need to notify your employer in plenty of time before starting leave. Local regulations will dictate how far in advance this should be.

Where maternity leave is paid through social security, you may have to submit forms to the relevant local authority to apply for it. If your employer is responsible for paying maternity leave benefits, they will likely process it through regular payroll.

How Does Maternity Leave Work?

In general, maternity leave consists of statutory maternity leave (the length of time you’re legally permitted to take off work), statutory maternity pay (the amount of pay you receive during leave), and any additional employer benefits you’re entitled to.

Once you’ve given appropriate notice, you can then take time off work for the agreed period of time. Your employer is legally required to hold onto your job for the length of statutory maternity leave, so you can return to it after your leave is over.

When Do You Go on Maternity Leave?

In some countries, local laws dictate when your maternity leave starts. This is typically before the birth of your child. However, in other countries, you may decide when to start leave according to your needs. Ask your employer if you’re not sure.

How Do You Write a Maternity Leave Letter?

While not all jurisdictions require written notice, writing a maternity leave letter is generally considered to be the most professional way to communicate to your employer that you intend to take maternity leave.

If you’d like to write a maternity leave letter, here’s what you should include:

  • That you’re pregnant or intending to adopt a child
  • When your child is due
  • When you’d like to start maternity leave
  • When you intend to return to work
  • A work proposal stating the work you intend to complete before you take leave and the work that needs to be completed during your absence
  • The level of communication you want from your employer during maternity leave
  • A medical letter (if required)

Remember, maternity leave letter requirements may differ from country to country, so always check local regulations before writing one.

What Is SMP (Statutory Maternity Pay)?

SMP is a UK term meaning “Statutory Maternity Pay.” In the UK, SMP is paid for 39 weeks at:

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks.
  • £151.97 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

Provide Compliant Global Maternity Benefits with Omnipresent

Managing maternity (and parental) leave for your global team can be a real challenge for HR - but it doesn’t have to be. When you partner with Omnipresent, we take care of leave compliance and administration for you.

Our team of local experts is on hand to answer all your queries about how long maternity leave should be, how much you should pay, who’s eligible, and more. In addition to maternity and family leave, Omnipresent’s global employment solution allows you to manage payroll and other benefits, such as healthcare and retirement, hassle-free.

Best of all? We give you the freedom to hire the best talent in over 160 countries and regions worldwide!

Book a free consultation with our team to get started.

The information on this page is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please see our disclaimer for more information.

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Omnipresent Team

The Omnipresent team writes informative articles on a wealth of popular topics, such as global employment and remote work. Check out our articles.

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