Family-friendly policies are crucial for the wellbeing of many employees and a fully functioning society. But not all countries (or employers) are as generous as others when it comes to parental leave.

Unicef recommends that nations provide six months (about 26 weeks) of statutory paid leave for parents. So, based on this figure, how does parental leave shape up in different countries around the world?

Family affairs

The way parental leave is structured in terms of duration, payment and eligibility varies considerably across countries. But, generally speaking, mothers are given greater leave allowances and are more likely to take parental leave.

Unsurprisingly, the Nordic nations rank highly when it comes to family-friendly policies. Sweden is often seen as a beaming example of gender equality, and its progressive working environment for parents exceeds international standards. Women in Sweden are entitled to 10 weeks’ full-rate equivalent maternity leave followed by 480 days’ parental leave, 90 days of which is ringfenced for each parent. Each parent also has the right to shorten their work hours by up to 25% until the child turns eight.

Norway has also mastered the art of a work-life balance for new parents. And thanks to the Norwegian Parliament increasing the quota of paternity and maternity leave in 2018, parents now receive 49 weeks at 100% pay or 59 weeks at 80%.

However, at 84 weeks, Estonia offers mothers the longest duration of leave at full pay equivalent, followed by Bulgaria (70 weeks), Hungary (68 weeks) and Lithuania (62 weeks).

In the UK, employers are required to offer a fairly substantial 52 weeks of maternity leave. Yet, mothers are only eligible for 90% pay for the first six weeks. For the next 33 weeks, they are eligible for either £151.20 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). And the final 13 weeks are not paid at all — meaning mothers only get about 12 weeks’ leave at full-rate equivalent!

Other countries with similarly low allowances include Cyprus (13 weeks), Belgium (13 weeks), Switzerland (8 weeks), New Zealand (8 weeks) and Australia (7 weeks).

A slow take-up 

Paternity leave is not as widely available as maternity leave. However, with many countries moving towards better equality around parental leave, more men are being encouraged to take time off after the birth of their child.

On paper, Japan looks to be leading the way, with an impressive 30 weeks’ paternity leave at full-pay equivalent available to new fathers. But take-up rates remain low. South Korea, which has the second-longest period of paternity leave at 15 weeks, follows a similar story. In 2018, only 17% of parents who took leave were men (although that was a 66% increase from the previous year), with findings from a government report indicating that the majority still feared the impact it would have on their careers.

However, some other countries — such as the UK, Malta, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Australia — don’t even have much in the way of parental leave policies for fathers. And until very recently, Switzerland and Canada didn’t provide any father-specific leave at all!

But as of March 2019, all Canadian parents have 40 weeks of parental leave — five of which are specifically meant for fathers. In September 2020, the Swiss Government also approved new paternity legislation, providing fathers of new-born babies with 10 days paid leave at 80% of their pay. The legislation will come into effect this year.

Going above and beyond

The real outlier in terms of parental leave is the US — the only high-income country in the world that doesn’t offer even a single day of statutory paid maternity, paternity or parental leave. (Although some states — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Oregon — and the District of Columbia have passed their own paid family leave laws.)

So, if you want to stand out as an employer and attract the best US talent, you better add parental leave to your employee benefits package! US companies leading the way on this front include Spotify (six months’ paid leave), Etsy (26 weeks’ paid leave) and Twitter (20 weeks’ paid leave). All policies are available to both parents and employees globally.

Elsewhere in the world, many companies are also starting to realise how beneficial generous parental leave — and particularly paternity leave — packages are to creating equality in the workplace and encouraging a better work-life balance for all…

Keen to re-evaluate your employee benefits package? Need help crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s when it comes to parental leave requirements? Then you need a Professional Employer Organisation like PEO Worldwide. Contact us today to see how we can help with your global expansion journey.