In this day and age, we all understand the importance of motherhood and allowing employees to have time off before and after birth. Maternity leave is essential for allowing mothers to prepare for and recover from giving birth as well as provide them ample time to bond with their newborn. Infant mortality rates have also been shown to decline when a longer maternity leave is provided.
While maternity leave is a great benefit to provide to employees, many governments around the world have taken it to themselves to protect maternity leave by writing certain conditions into law — introducing the concept of statutory maternity leave. If your company employs a global workforce, it’s important to be aware of the different laws and regulations surrounding maternity leave according to the country your staff is working in. In this article, we’ll talk about what statutory maternity leave means and who is entitled to it in general terms, as well as touching upon the top five countries with the longest maternity leave.
What is statutory maternity leave?
All working adults should be aware of what maternity leave is — it’s an important and highly valuable employment benefit for companies to provide their staff. Allowing working mothers some time off of work to prepare for the birth of their child, recover from said birth as well as provide crucial time to bond with their baby has become the norm in many countries. This type of leave can be paid, paid in part (per a percentage) or unpaid, depending on the legislature of the country in which the employee is working from.
When we say “statutory maternity leave”, that means that governments have written into law that maternity leave is a compulsory benefit for companies to provide to their employees. These laws include, for the most part, a minimum number of days that are mandatory for businesses to provide, the amount of pay the mother is entitled to while on maternity leave, and relevant legal protections given to the mother.
While for a great many of us, these legal rights when it comes to maternity leave are a given. However as of writing, there are seven United Nations member states that don’t provide paid maternity leave and many more countries providing maternity leave that is under the international standard of 14 weeks. One such country that fails both checks is, surprisingly, the United States.
Who is entitled to maternity leave?
The answer to this question may seem obvious — maternity leave is provided to expecting mothers. But with labour laws varying from country to country, the exact terms regarding who is entitled to maternity leave is different across the planet. Many countries have evolved their legislative language to include mothers who are about to adopt or foster children as they’ve found that bonding with newly adopted or fostered children during the first weeks is equally as important as bonding with a newborn.
Plenty of countries around the world understand that caveats may be necessary when it comes to companies providing maternity leave. Within some legislation, you may see maternity leave eligibility terms such as:
- The number of years they've been working for the same company.
- Contribution to national insurance (in the UK) or other similar programs.
- The company's current workforce size
Is maternity leave paid?
For the most part, yes. However, as we’ve mentioned before, there are seven countries that do not have paid maternity leave terms written into their legislation. Those countries are: the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Tonga and the United States.
Most other countries provide paid maternity leave for a determined number of weeks — although the amount of pay provided, whether full or a specific percentage of the pay, is different from country to country. For example, in the UK, expectant mothers will receive “Statutory Maternity Pay” for the first 39 weeks of their maternity leave of around 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, and £156.66 a week for the remaining weeks. Austria, on the other hand, provides 100% of the mother’s average income over the previous three months for the first 16 weeks of leave.
Top 5 countries with the longest paid maternity leave
While the title of “country with the best maternity leave” is open for debate, there are many different factors that add to that claim like total length of maternity leave, amount paid and the amount of the total leave period that is paid. With so many countries around the world offering their own statutory maternity leave on top of the multitudes more of companies that build better maternity leave structures, it’s hard to say who does it best!
Instead, let’s talk about some of the countries that offer the longest maternity leave in the world. Before we get into it, we’d like to give a quick shout out to Estonia who gives expectant mothers up to 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave with a further optional 62 weeks to be taken as either maternity or paternity leave at a reduced rate — that’s a total of 574 days that a parent can be protected by the law. With that said, let’s take a look at five of the longest paid maternity leave benefits provided by countries around the world:
#1: Bulgaria & Croatia (58 weeks)
Bulgaria and Croatia, two nations in the Baltic region, are tied for first spot because they both provide 58 weeks of statutory paid maternity leave to its citizens. Since the circumstances in each nation are rather different from one another, let's go over them quickly and become familiar with what's going on in each place.
In Bulgaria, expectant mothers are obligated to start their maternity leave 45 days before the due date as declared by their doctor (via a letter). If the baby is born before the 45 days are up, the remainder gets carried over to maternity leave after birth. In terms of pay, the expectant mothers can enjoy an amount of 90% of their average gross daily income, where the rates are calculated on a daily basis.
On the other hand, in Croatia, expectant mothers are entitled to start their maternity leave 28 days prior to the baby’s due date for up to an additional 54 weeks after birth — with 44 of those weeks allowed to be split between both parents. Mothers are entitled to 100% of their wage for up to 14 weeks, with a ceiling of around €752 for the following weeks of parental leave, capped at 6–8 months.
#2: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, & Montenegro (52 weeks)
The following three countries are tied for second place: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro each offer a total of 52 weeks of paid maternity leave. Each of the three countries, much like Bulgaria and Croatia, enjoys its own unique set of advantages over the others.
Maternity leave in Albania entitles mothers to 52 weeks of paid maternity leave in total, with it starting a minimum of 35 days before birth and 63 days after the birth. The first six months of maternity pay calculated at 80% of average monthly salary while the maternity pay for the remaining six months drops to 50%. An important caveat is that mothers are only entitled to maternity leave if they’ve worked for 12 consecutive months.
In Bosnia & Herzegovina, mothers are given uninterrupted maternity leave of up to 12 months for single children but the amount of maternity leave is bumped up to 18 months when a mother is expecting twins, triplets or a higher multiple. Mothers are expected (but not required) to begin their maternity leave 28 days before birth and are not allowed to take less than 42 days of leave after birth. The percentage of maternity pay provided to mothers depends on the canton that she works in, ranging between 50–80% of her regular wage.
Although sources vary, the International Labor Organization reports that working mothers in Montenegro can enjoy the 52 weeks of maternity pay at 100% of their monthly income — with 98 of those days being mandatory. Pregnant employees have to start their maternity leave 28 days before their baby’s due date, and can only come back to work (should they choose to) 70 days after childbirth.
#3: North Macedonia & the UK (39 weeks)
Those who are expecting a single child in North Macedonia are eligible for 39 weeks of uninterrupted maternity leave, whereas those who are anticipating births of multiple children (twins, etc.) are eligible for 60 weeks of maternity leave. Those who are taking maternity leave will also be eligible for maternity pay at a rate equal to one hundred percent of their regular income.
And in the United Kingdom, while the government has stated that there are 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave, only 39 of those weeks are paid. Hence, why the UK is placed alongside North Macedonia. The earliest that an expectant mother can take off of work is 11 weeks prior to the determined birth date, and the mother is free to start work again only 14 days after birth. In terms of maternity pay, the first 6 weeks of maternity leave will provide 90% of the mother’s average weekly earnings, while maternity pay for the remaining weeks are capped at £156.66 a week.
#4: Slovakia (34 weeks)
In total, mothers in Slovakia are eligible to receive up to 34 weeks of paid leave throughout their time off for childbearing. It is required that maternity leave start six weeks before the due date, with the remaining of the time off being used once the baby is born. Mothers will receive maternity pay equal to 64% of their regular income while they are on leave for the duration of their pregnancy. It is essential to keep in mind that the termination of maternity leave must wait until the child is at least six months old before it may take place.
#5: Czech Republic (28 weeks)
Finally, we have the Czech Republic, also known as Czechia. Female workers are entitled to 28 weeks of paid maternity leave for the purpose of giving birth and caring for their newborn. However, if a mother gives birth to two or more children at the same time, she is entitled to 37 weeks of maternity leave. In either case, all expectant mothers can enjoy a maternity pay rate of 70% of their monthly salary for the entire duration of their leave.
Why companies should be aware of maternity leave laws
If your company is currently or is considering expanding overseas, learning about the different maternity leave regulations is extremely important. If you want to attract and keep talented employees and comply with local laws around the world, you need to know the ins and outs of offering maternity leave in different countries. Considerations such as budget, timeframe, necessary qualifications, and other obligations of the employer should also be included. Failure to maintain global compliance may result in financial penalties or legal action, in addition to the loss of talent.
This is because managing statutory leave, including maternity leave, is key for companies wishing to maintain compliance internationally. Ensuring that your business sticks to the rules of the land, both in terms of tax and labour laws, can protect companies from being hit with large fines and facing legal action. Partnering with the right global expansion partner can ensure that the business always stays compliant with local laws and regulations thanks to their team of global experts.