What Is Parental Leave? A Complete Guide

Parental leave is a type of job-protected leave new parents can take to look after their child. But do you know how it differs from maternity and paternity leave?

What Is Parental Leave? A Complete Guide
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Parental leave is a statutory employee benefit in many countries worldwide. It allows new parents to spend time with and care for their new child while retaining their job. However, the regulations concerning parental leave differ from country to country, which can be frustrating for global employers.

As an employer, it’s important for you to know what your employee’s leave entitlements are, including how long parental leave lasts, how much they should be paid, and how it differs from maternity and paternity leave.

We’ve put together this guide to offer clear answers to all your questions about parental leave, including:

  • What is parental leave?
  • How is it different from maternity and paternity leave?
  • Who’s entitled to parental leave?
  • Is parental leave paid?
  • How long is parental leave?
  • How can you manage parental leave for a global team?

Why Do You Need to Understand Parental Leave?

Parental leave is an important employee benefit for new parents, so as an employer, you need to understand all the details to best support your employees. This understanding will enable you to:

  • Remain compliant with local laws to avoid fines and legal action.
  • Boost employee wellbeing by keeping your employees informed about their entitlements.
  • Create market-competitive leave policies to improve talent acquisition and retention, helping you build a world-class team.

Managing parental leave regulations on a global scale can be challenging and time-consuming - especially if you go it alone. That’s why we recommend working with a global employment partner like Omnipresent to help you remain compliant. Skip to the end of this article to find out more.

Parental Leave Meaning

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines parental leave as “employment-protected leave of absence for employed parents.” However, the specific application of parental leave varies from country to country.

In some jurisdictions, parental leave is supplementary to and follows on from maternity and paternity leave periods; in others, parental leave is an alternative to maternity and paternity leave.

Employer Parental Leave Policies

You may also find some private employers use the term “parental leave” to describe their general family leave policies. Often, this terminology is used for inclusivity purposes and applies to every employee, regardless of their gender or family structure. In this respect, private parental leave policies are often more flexible than statutory requirements.

This article mainly talks about statutory parental leave (i.e., government-mandated leave), so we’ll clarify when we discuss employer-specific policies too.

Who Is Eligible for Parental Leave?

Unlike maternity and paternity leave, parental leave entitlement generally applies to either parent, whatever their gender or birthing status. But there may be certain conditions an employee has to meet in order to qualify for parental leave, such as:

  • 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).

In some countries, such as Norway and Sweden, certain periods of parental leave are exclusively reserved for the father. This is often called the "father's quota" and is non-transferable to the mother, so you either use it or lose it.

In Austria, the government takes a slightly different approach to parent-specific leave, offering two “bonus” months if both parents take a certain portion of parental leave.

It’s worth noting parental leave isn’t mandatory in the following OECD countries, so employees based there will not be eligible unless their employer offers it as a benefit:

Is Parental Leave Paid?

The availability of paid statutory parental leave differs across the world; some countries offer paid leave (such as Germany, South Korea, and Romania), while others don’t (e.g., the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US). Overall, paid parental leave is less common than paid maternity and paternity leave.

Where parental leave pay is available, it may be an individual entitlement (both parents receive pay separately) or a family entitlement (pay is split between both parents). Pay may be available for the entirety of parental leave or only for a certain portion of it.

In countries that offer unpaid parental leave, employers may still choose to pay their employees during leave according to their own HR policies.

How Much Is Paid Parental Leave?

The amount of parental leave pay an employee is entitled to differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It’s typically calculated as a percentage of the employee’s salary before the leave or as a predefined lump sum. In some countries, parental leave pay is taxable, while in others, it’s not.

Austria, for example, allows parents to choose between a flexible flat-rate child-raising allowance (between €14.53 and €33.88 per day) or an income-related allowance (80% of earnings up to a maximum of €2,000 a month).

Some countries, like Croatia and Norway, offer employees 100% of average earnings during part, if not all, of the leave period. However, many impose a maximum amount of total pay.

On the other end of the spectrum, Italy only offers 30% of earnings.

Who Pays for Parental Leave?

Government-paid parental leave is very common. This is typically funded through social security or tax revenue and, in some cases, may only be given if the employee has already contributed a certain amount through payroll.

In other jurisdictions, employers are liable for paying employees parental leave pay directly.

Private employers may also choose to provide top-up payments above the statutory minimum for employees on parental leave. If you choose to do this, you should include the exact terms of payment in your parental leave policy and employment contracts.

Parent's hand holding small baby's hand

How Long Is Parental Leave?

The length of parental leave an employee is entitled to depends on their jurisdiction. Some countries have generous parental leave periods that cover several months, while others only last a few weeks. Similarly, some countries allow parents to take parental leave part-time, while others require them to take it continuously.

Some of the most generous parental leave entitlements can be found in the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Lithuania, and Slovakia, where parents can take up to three years of job-protected leave. Pay is available for at least part of that leave period in all of these countries.

Some countries also have longer-term provisions that enable parents to stay home to look after young children well after childbirth. This may be referred to as “childcare leave” or “home care leave” and is often unpaid.

For example, parents in the UK are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave until their child turns 18. In Bulgaria, the entitlement is six months of unpaid leave from the child’s second birthday until their eighth birthday.

Additional Parental Leave FAQs

We’ve covered the main topics about parental leave, but here are some additional FAQs to help you understand it in more depth:

How to Apply for Parental Leave

Employees usually have to give their employer notice before they take parental leave - local regulations will define how long this notice period should be.

If they’re entitled to parental leave pay or allowance, they may have to apply for it through a local government body. Alternatively, employees may receive pay through payroll as usual.

When Does Parental Leave Start?

In most cases, statutory parental leave starts after a parent’s maternity or paternity leave ends.

Where parental leave is an alternative to maternity and paternity leave, rather than supplementary, employees may be able to start parental leave as soon as their baby is born or adopted. However, they should check local regulations and their employer’s parental leave policy to be sure.

How Does Shared Parental Leave Work?

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is a UK-specific policy that enables both parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. Shared Parental Leave must be taken within the first year after the child is born or adopted. Eligible employees can use SPL in the following ways:

  • In blocks separated by periods of work or all in one go
  • At the same time as their partner or at separate times

Manage Global Parental Leave Compliantly with Omnipresent

Managing employee benefits like parental leave on an international scale is complex, but working with a global employment partner like Omnipresent can provide you with all the support you need to stay compliant.

Omnipresent gives you the freedom to hire, pay, and manage top talent in over 160 countries and regions worldwide. In addition to handling benefits like parental leave, we take care of onboarding, payroll, and compliance, too, freeing up your time and energy to focus on business-critical projects.

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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