Jul 18, 2019 - Jarka Košanová  

Parental/maternity leave around the world – how does your country stack up?

A new mother at GitLab takes a look at how different countries approach time off for new parents.

This is the first in a four-part series looking at a myriad of issues surrounding working remotely with children. We’ll take a look at parental leave policies worldwide, get an inside view of working at GitLab with a newborn, and discover tried-and-true strategies for working remotely with older children.

At GitLab we have a generous parental leave policy.

When I returned from my maternity leave, I started to think about what that leave means for all team members. I come from the Czech Republic, a country where it is considered ideal for a mother to stay home from work until their child is about three years old. This expectation extends to each child in the family. In this blog post, I will look at parental leave around the world, and in a second post I’ll talk about my experience working at GitLab with a newborn. The opinions are my own, of course, and in every country, including my home nation, there can be major differences in leave standards between big cities and the rest of the country, especially in the smaller villages and across different social groups.

Parental leave in the Czech Republic

It is a complex system but what is important is that once a baby is born employers must keep the job of an employee on parental leave open for three years, and that’s for each child. Parents are entitled to a fixed amount of government money and they can decide for how long they want to receive the stipend (the amount is split accordingly for each month). Because employers have to keep a job open for three years, the vast majority of mothers stay at home for three years. It is quite rare for fathers to stay at home, although this number is increasing.

Standards vary, even in Europe

I will summarize laws from a few countries to show how parental policies differ across Europe and worldwide.

About 80% of women in the Czech Republic stay home with their new child for two years or more, and even fewer women return to work within the first year after birth.

The parental leave policy is very similar in Germany where employers must keep a position open for women for three years and a lot of working mothers use it.

In the US there is no law that enforces paid parental leave.

I lived in Switzerland for almost four years, and it was the first time I encountered completely different rules and approaches to parental leave. In Switzerland, women are permitted to stay at home for three to four months (it depends on the employer but purely by law, they are entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave) and about 70% of mothers return to work during the first two years of the child's life.

From the UK to the US

In the UK, where women can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, about 65% of mothers of kids up to two years old work.

In the Netherlands, women can take at least 16 weeks of maternity leave (including pregnancy) and almost 90% of women return to work before their child is one year, while in France 80% of mothers will return to work.

In the Czech Republic, about 80% of women stay home with children for two years or more.

More than half (53%) of Australian women return to work within the first two years.

In Sweden, both parents can split 480 days of parental leave and most families use this benefit. Scandinavian countries also have the largest volume of fathers taking parental leave.

In the US, there is no law that enforces paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act ensures 12 weeks of job protection with unpaid leave, and there are some states that have more generous policies. Companies are taken as very generous if they decide to provide at least a couple of paid weeks of leave. In the US, 60% of women return to work during the baby's first year and 44% go back to work within the first three months after giving birth.

This is just a snapshot of how parental leave is treated around the world. Check the Parental Leave Review 2018 if you are interested in more data from other countries. You may also find a length of maternity, parental and father-specific leave table interesting. And if you want a short summary across 11 countries, check out this article from Business Insider.

Next up: Jarka shares her experience with GitLab maternity leave as well as some good advice for expectant and early-stage parents.

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

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