Before I had kids I didn’t really give parental leave a second thought. Even when I was pregnant for the first time I honestly didn’t really think ahead too much, so when my boss asked me how much time I planned to take off after the baby arrived I looked at her blankly and truthfully said that I hadn’t actually thought about it. She recommended I take two months off, so that became our benchmark. Obviously I had seen friends go off on maternity leave before, especially when I worked for a large corporation, and they usually came back after three months, reluctantly. I also knew that in certain Scandinavian countries people were able to take a year off of work after having a kid. But seeing as I worked in the service industry, managing a small, family-owned business, I didn’t even bother considering PAID leave. It doesn’t exist in the US.
Yes, there is no national paid parental leave policy in the US, actually there is no national parental leave policy at all. Some companies have specific leave policies. Some states, such as California, have specific laws in place that allow for a few weeks off, but they are only eligible for those who work “full time” or basically on salary. Hourly workers often get penalized out of many benefits in the US, especially as most companies refuse to hire for more than 35 hours a week (40 is considered full-time), so most hourly wage workers tend to have at least one and a half jobs, if not two or three. I never assumed that I would have any type of maternity pay, so we saved up a little, and then just lived off one set of wages for two months. I never went back to my job, because we lived in a very expensive city at the time (NYC), and my wages would have barely covered the extortionate childcare costs. We managed on two full-time jobs that my other half worked for a while and then moved to California (where things aren’t really that much easier, but that’s another story).
With the US being one of the leading economies in the “developed” world, it’s quite surprising that there are no policies in place to give parents the time to bond with their children, heal from childbirth (women), and generally just spend time with their children before returning to the workplace. How is it possible that other countries are able to provide this? What are the national policies like in other countries in comparison? I have done some research on a few other countries to see what the deal is there.
Estonia allows for over 80 (yes you read that right) 80 weeks of paid parental leave. Mothers receive 20 weeks of fully paid leave that can start up to 70 days before delivery, and fathers can take two weeks off to bond with their child. In addition to this, after the 20 weeks of maternity leave is over parents then get to share an additional 62 weeks of paid time off (435 days) paid at the average of both parents’ salaries.
In France women receive 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, which then moves up to 26 weeks with the third child (due to a slower population growth in recent decades, France provides additional allowances for families with more than two children). In addition to this, paternity leave is also available and a pregnant woman’s job must be kept available to her while she is on maternity leave, even if she decides to extend the leave.
Mexico has a 12 week paid maternity leave policy that can be extended another 6 weeks at half pay. They are also entitled to two 30 minute breaks a day to breastfeed their child if needed. While the policy is available to all pregnant women, I have read stories about women feeling pressured to go back to work sooner, and fearing losing their jobs when they do come back to work.
Norway provides parents with several options. 35 weeks of leave at full pay or 45 weeks at 80% pay. And fathers can take up to 10 weeks paid leave, depending on their partner’s earnings.
In the UK there are 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave followed by 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. The first 6 weeks are paid at 90% of your regular salary, and then you receive £140.98 or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. After that, although you still have the remainder of the 52 weeks off, you do not receive any pay. All pregnant employees are eligible for leave but there are certain restrictions in place in order to receive maternity pay (for example, you have to have been working at least 6 months for the company before taking leave). There is however something called Maternity Allowance that is available for those not eligible for maternity pay… So basically you can usually claim some form of payment. It is also technically illegal to go back to work within two weeks of giving birth (4 weeks if you work in a factory). There seem to be a few hoops to jump through depending on your situation but most people are eligible for something for at least 11 weeks.
Russian women receive 100% of pay for 140 days of leave, and can extend their leave for up to three years without losing their jobs!
In Australia it is possible to get up to 18 weeks of paid parental leave if you are the primary carer of a child (biological or adopted). This pay is the equivalent of the national minimum wage. Employees are also allowed 12 months of unpaid leave and 12 months of additional unpaid leave that they can combine with the 18 weeks of paid leave. They do however have to be working for 12 months with the same employer before they take the leave.
In Canada each province has slightly different policies, but basically you can rely on 12-18 months of parental leave, and pay depends on how much you have contributed to the Employment Insurance in the past. There are other benefits that you may be eligible for too, and some employers even provide a “top-up” to help their employees through their leave.
India recently granted women who worked for a privately owned company of more than 10 employees 26 weeks of paid leave, up from 12. This is available for the first two children, after that paid leave remains at 12 weeks. Companies of 50 or more employees must also provide crèche facilities within a certain distance and mothers must be given the time to visit their children up to four times a day (I’m assuming to feed them which I find awesome!). The only downside to this policy is that the companies affected take the full brunt of providing the salaries of women on leave, which could possibly lead to less women being hired in the future.
Obviously I do think it is important to keep in mind that in most countries with some kind of paid leave policy the money comes from a social security program that all workers pay into with their taxes. Some countries also require the employer to pay some of the funds too, but basically policies come from a sturdy social set-up that allows for women (and men) to take at least some time off work without worrying about losing their jobs and about how they are going to make ends meet. We pay taxes and social security payments here in the US too, but they seem to mainly go towards things that are not really aimed towards social sharing. It always surprises me how such a country so intent on ensuring women have difficulty accessing free contraception and abortions, completely fail on ensuring that they are able to rest after childbirth. But that is a whole other story for another day!
I do think that it is also important to keep in mind that these are just policies and that depending on where you live you must always review these policies in depth instead of just assuming you will get something. Some women cannot afford to take much time off after they give birth, for many reasons, and some find that they are treated differently when they do. While I feel that we still have a long way to go in some areas, anything is better than absolutely no leave at all, and I think it would benefit every country and economy in general to look into allowing parents to have enough leave time to ensure they will happily go back to work once their child is of a certain age. I for one know that if I had had the possibility of taking 6 months off even at half pay I would most likely have gone back to work afterwards.
What is the policy in your country? Are there any changes that you would like to see happen? How did you find going back to work after your leave was over?
The 10 Countries With the Best Parental Leave Policies in the World
Maternity Pay & Leave Overview UK
What You Need to Know About Parental Leave in Canada
Parliament Passes Bill to Raise Maternity Leave to 26 Weeks
Jade Anna Hughes is a writer and photographer who was born in the UK, grew up in France, called NYC home for a decade before relocating to the California sun. She has two young daughters, another child on the way, and spends most of her “spare” time writing, reading and trying to change the world. Her first book, With Spring Comes Hope, is currently available on Amazon and B&N worldwide.