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An overview of parental leave policies around the world

An overview of parental leave policies around the world

parental leave policies around the world

Depending on where you live, parental leave may or may not be a part of your reality.

Did you know that the US and Papua New Guinea are the only nations out of the world’s 196 countries with no federally mandated policy for paid maternity leave?

Meanwhile, new parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay, in addition to the 18 weeks reserved for maternity leave. That’s almost 16 months!

There’s a wide range of parental leave policies around the world, and the same goes for companies’ internal HR policies. Let’s discuss why this topic is important, which countries are the most (and least) generous, and some of the companies going above and beyond for their employees.

Why parental leave policies matter

Parental leave has a host of benefits for individuals, families, and the greater economy. Here are just a few:

Work-life balance

Parental leave is key to providing work-life balance for parents (whether biological or adoptive). When policies are in place, employees are able to take the time they need with young children, without using PTO or unpaid leave. 

This is crucial for many families, but especially those who are:

  1. lower income households that may not be able to afford unpaid leave or hired caregiver help, or
  2. people without a support system to help out (e.g. single parents or those without nearby family and friends).

Leveling the playing field

Parental leave also improves workplace disparities between genders. A study by the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research explored the differences in levels of new mother retention for US states that have implemented paid-leave policies and those that have not. The study found that for women without access to paid family leave, “nearly 30 percent dropped out of the workforce within a year after giving birth and one in five did not return for over a decade.”

Parental leave policies don’t only level the playing field between genders. They also close the workforce participation gap between mothers with young children and women without minor children. 

Economic development

Parental leave even gives a boost to the economy at large. Here’s how the World Bank sums up the benefits of parental leave:

“Ensuring that mothers and fathers have adequate paid leave for the birth of a child should be priority for economic development. Studies show that adequate maternity leave can lead to lower infant mortality rates, health benefits for the mother, higher female labor force participation and increased breastfeeding rates. Paternity leave also has a wide range of benefits that can improve development outcomes, including health and economic benefits to the mother, more equitable division of household labor and increased child bonding. Researchers have linked fathers’ use of leave with increased earnings for the mother, reduced mother-absenteeism due to sickness and higher female employment in private firms.”

Parental leave policies around the world

As an example, here are the policies for parental leave in the ten largest nations by GDP:

CountryTotal Length of Paid Maternity & Parental Leave in Weeks
United States0.0
United Kingdom39.0

Global outliers for parental leave

There are definite outliers in the area of parental leave – some on the generous side, and some not so much. Countries known for having some of the most generous laws include:

  • Finland – 164 days (approx. seven months) for each parent. A single parent can take the amount of two parents, or 328 days. 
  • Estonia – 140 days of fully paid pregnancy and maternity leave. After this, parents get an additional 435 days of paid leave to share.
  • Sweden – 480 days of leave at 80% pay, split up however the parents choose. This is in addition to the 18 weeks reserved just for mothers. 90 of those 480 days are reserved for the father. 

On the other side are countries with less generous parental leave policies (or none at all):

  • United States – The US has no federal paid family leave laws on the books. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides unpaid leave, “but only about 60 percent of private-sector workers are eligible, and of those, 46 percent report struggling to afford unpaid time off.” The US policy is often touted as the worst out of the world’s richest countries.
  • Papua New Guinea – This is the only country besides the US that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternity leave. The employment regulations do allow women to get six weeks of maternity leave, but without pay. If mothers want their leave to be paid, they must use vacation or sick time.
  • Tunisia – Female employees in Tunisia receive only 30 days in the private sector or 60 days in the public sector of paid maternity leave.

Companies with generous parental leave policies

While countries have their own legally mandated parental leave regulations, companies can usually implement their own policies (as long as they meet or exceed the minimum set by the government).

There are many companies that choose to go above and beyond when it comes to providing paid parental leave for their employees. Here are a few:

  • Microsoft – This tech giant offers five months of paid leave to all new (birth) mothers, as well as three months for fathers, adoptive parents, and foster parents. Additionally, the company will only partner with vendors and suppliers “that offer a twelve-week minimum parental leave, for either birth or adoptive parents.”
  • Netflix – Netflix generously offers a full year of both maternal and paternal paid leave. “Parents may come back on a part-time basis during this time should they desire, or come back, and leave again within this 1 year period while having their full salaries and benefits paid. This is a benefit for both their full-time and part-time workers.”
  • Spotify – Founded in Sweden (one of the more generous countries with parental leave), Spotify offers six months of fully paid parental leave to all employees globally. This is the case regardless of gender or how you become a parent (i.e., biological, adoptive, etc). 

What we can learn from parental leave policies around the world

It’s important to remember that the state of parental leave vastly differs from country to country and company to company. Additionally, local labor laws and company-internal policies have to go hand-in-hand.

These policies will be unique to each company, and will have effects on employee satisfaction, retention, work-life balance, and much more.

Once your leadership or People teams have created your parental leave policy, a leave and absence management platform like Back can help you provide a seamless experience for (soon-to-be) parents.

Back connects your policies (e.g. in Confluence or Notion) to the channels employees already use, like Slack, Teams, and Google Chat. With Back, you can also manage parental leave requests and automate repetitive tasks – all in one place.

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