Maternity leave is the period of time in which a new mother takes off work before and after the birth of their child. Employees may also take maternity leave when they adopt or foster children.

Maternity leave can be both paid and unpaid, depending on state or country laws, company policies, and the specific circumstances of the employee.

Maternity leave is a mandatory employee benefit in many countries, which means the law requires employers to provide maternity leave.

Countries with mandatory maternity leave

Several countries worldwide have policies to support and protect working mothers during the prenatal and postnatal periods. Here are examples of countries with mandated maternity leave:

  • France. Maternity leave in France is typically 16 weeks, with additional time granted for multiple births. Social Security provides a daily cash benefit during prenatal and postnatal leave periods, calculated based on the individual’s average daily earnings.
  • Germany. Mothers in Germany are entitled to maternity leave of up to 14 weeks before childbirth and up to 12 weeks after childbirth, with additional time for premature births or multiple births. Benefits are generally equivalent to the mother's average net income.
  • Iceland. Maternity leave in Iceland is six months for babies born after 2021. The mother can choose to transfer up to six weeks of these six months of leave to the other parent.
  • Norway. Mothers in Norway are entitled to up to a year of maternity leave, including up to 12 weeks of leave before childbirth and at least six weeks of leave following delivery.

What does it mean to go on maternity leave?

For mothers, to go on maternity leave means to leave work for a specified period of time to prepare for the new addition, give birth, and integrate the baby into their family.

While everyone's experience differs, here are typical milestones mothers may experience during maternity leave:

  • Prepare the home for the baby's arrival
  • Give and recover from birth
  • Attend medical check-ups
  • Build emotional and physical bonds
  • Establish feeding and sleep routines
  • Learn how to provide childcare
  • Adjust to parenthood
  • Implement self-care practices

Who is entitled to maternity leave?

Employers typically grant paid or unpaid maternity leave to eligible employees adopting, fostering, or birthing children, depending on local regulations or company-specific policies.

However, the eligibility requirements for maternity leave vary by country and organization. Not all countries extend maternity leave as a statutory benefit. Here are a few general conditions that may determine whether an employee is or is not qualified for maternity leave:

  • Employment status. Different employment statuses (e.g., full-time, part-time, independent contractor, temporary) may have varying entitlements to maternity leave.
  • Legal requirements. Employers and employees must follow local labor laws and regulations related to eligibility for maternity leave.
  • Notification. Employees must usually inform their employers about their pregnancy and intention to take maternity leave within a specified timeframe.
  • Medical documentation. Employers may request medical documentation to verify eligibility, such as a doctor's certificate confirming the pregnancy and expected due date.
  • Adoption and fostering considerations. Maternity leave eligibility may extend to employees who are adopting or fostering children. 
  • Company policies. Employers establish internal guidelines regarding maternity leave, which may outline additional eligibility criteria outside of any applicable entitlements.
  • Social security contributions. Some jurisdictions may link employees' eligibility for maternity leave benefits to their contributions to Social Security or similar programs.

How long is maternity leave?

The duration of maternity leave varies by state, country, and individual company policy. Many jurisdictions have established legal minimums for maternity leave.

For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the U.S. grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for medical or family situations, including the birth and care of a newborn child.

When does maternity leave begin?

Maternity leave usually begins before the birth. However, the start date of maternity leave differs throughout the world.

In Austria, for instance, mothers must commence their leave eight weeks before the expected due date.

In the U.S., however, there is no mandated start date.

Is maternity leave paid?

Maternity leave can be paid, unpaid, or partially paid. Laws regulating paid maternity leave vary across the globe.

Paid maternity leave in the U.S.

For example, no federal law mandates paid maternity leave in the U.S. FMLA grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year for the birth and care of a newborn child. However, this leave is unpaid, and not all employees qualify for FMLA protection.

To combat this limited maternity leave coverage, some U.S. states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, have implemented their own paid family leave programs.

Additionally, some U.S. employers offer paid maternity leave as a supplemental benefit as part of their compensation packages to attract and retain talent and compete in the hiring market.

Learn more: Guide to Employee Benefits in the U.S.

Paid maternity leave in Canada

Canada provides maternity leave through their national Employment Insurance (EI) program. Eligible mothers are allowed up to 15 weeks of paid leave. Benefits typically provide up to 55% of average weekly earnings, up to a maximum weekly amount. The specific benefit amount is calculated based on the individual's earnings during a specified period.

Parents can access parental benefits in addition to maternity benefits, allowing them to share these benefits between the mother and the father. Parental benefits provide up to 55% of average weekly earnings for a maximum duration of 35 weeks (or up to 61 weeks at a lower benefit rate).

Learn more: Guide to Employee Benefits in Canada

Paid maternity leave in the U.K.

The U.K. provides paid maternity leave, and eligible employees are entitled to statutory maternity leave. This statutory maternity leave lasts up to 52 weeks.

During the first six weeks of maternity leave, eligible individuals receive 90% of their average weekly earnings. For the remaining 33 weeks, the pay is either 90% of the average weekly earnings or the flat rate the government sets—whichever is lower.

In the U.K., parents can share parental leave to care for their new baby or older children. Family leave includes maternity, paternity, parental, and adoption leave.

Progressive employers may offer inclusive family leave policies, extending paid leave to caregivers regardless of gender to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Learn more: Guide to Employee Benefits in the U.K.

Do fathers receive maternity leave?

While maternity leave typically applies to mothers, many states, countries, and companies grant fathers paternity or parental leave, promoting equal parenting roles. This leave allows fathers to take time off for bonding and childcare and to provide support.

Parental leave availability, duration, and compensation differ worldwide and per company policy.
In the U.S., the FMLA provides gender-neutral leave for eligible employees for reasons like childbirth or adoption, allowing fathers to have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Companies may also have additional policies for paid paternity leave.

Here's a snapshot of a few countries with family leave benefits for fathers:

  • Australia. Eligible fathers and partners are entitled to up to two weeks of paid paternity leave at the national minimum wage rate. This leave can be taken within the first year following the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Canada. Parental leave is paid for a maximum of 35 weeks shared between parents plus five weeks of “daddy days.” The benefit is typically 55% of average weekly earnings, with a maximum weekly amount.
  • Iceland. Parents are given six months of parental leave each, and six weeks are transferable to the other parent. Eligible parents are paid a percentage of their salary.
  • Japan. Eligible fathers are allowed to take up to 12 months of paternity leave. Eligible employees receive a percentage of their regular salary.
  • Norway. Fathers are entitled to a dedicated portion of parental leave known as "paternity quota," which is up to 15 weeks of leave with a percentage of their salary.
  • Sweden. "Daddy leave" in Sweden offers fathers 480 days of leave per child, with individuals receiving a percentage of their salary as parental benefit.

Why is maternity leave an important employee benefit?

Generous maternity leave is a crucial addition to a global employee benefits package, ensuring fair and equitable benefits across diverse teams with varying regulations. It signals a commitment to employee well-being, attracting and retaining top talent by promoting work-life balance. Competitive maternity leave policies promote a positive employer brand and foster employee loyalty.

Competitive maternity leave policies also align with diversity and inclusion efforts, accommodating a varied workforce's diverse needs and life stages. Beyond compliance with local regulations, providing generous maternity leave supports positive workplace cultures, reduces legal risks, and enhances employee satisfaction, productivity, and engagement.

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Disclaimer: The intent of this document is solely to provide general and preliminary information for private use. Do not rely on it as an alternative to legal, financial, taxation, or accountancy advice from an appropriately qualified professional. © 2024 Velocity Global, LLC. All rights reserved.

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