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Countries with Paid Maternity Leave: How the US Compares

Sep 14th, 2022

In most countries around the world, maternity leave is a given part of a benefit package. Many countries with paid maternity leave offer time off through their social security system. However, a lot of employers choose to give additional leave for new mothers.

In many countries, maternity leave is a statutory right mandated by the government. There are only 7 countries in the world that do not require maternity leave, and the United States is one of the few countries that does not offer maternity, paternity, or parental leave for the birth of a child, adoption, or foster care.

Maternity, paternity, or parental paid leave is not always fully paid at 100%. Normally, it’s a percentage of the employees base salary. Most countries outside of the US consider this a given right for employees. Paid leave for the birth of a child or adoption not only gives new parents the ability to bond with their child, but shows employees that their employer values their work/life balance.

Here is a breakdown of countries with maternity leave around the world, how the United States measures up in terms of offering leave, and ways that US employers can provide maternity leave in their compensation and benefits packages.

What countries offer the best maternity leave?

Almost all countries around the world offer some type of maternity leave that new mothers can take. There are 141 countries offering some type of maternity leave, and of those 141 countries, 41 countries offer paid maternity leave.

European countries offer some of the largest amounts of paid time off for new mothers and fathers. In fact, there are a total of 8 countries in Europe that offer maternity leave at 100% of the employees base salary.

Estonia offers the most comprehensive maternity leave packages for employees globally, with over 1 year of maternity leave. New mothers can take up to 86 weeks off before and after childbirth. 20 of these weeks are paid at 100% of the employees salary.

Other countries that offer some of the most comprehensive paid maternity leave packages are:

  • Greece with 43 weeks of paid maternity leave at 63% of the employees salary

  • Slovakia with 34 weeks of paid maternity leave at 75% of the employees salary

  • Poland with 20 weeks of paid maternity leave at 100% of the employees salary

  • Luxembourg with 20 weeks of paid maternity leave at 100% of the employees salary

Almost all countries around the world offer some type of paid time off for employees following the birth of a child. The United States is one of the only countries that does not measure up globally to the minimum of six weeks of paid maternity leave and the global average of 18 weeks.

Parental leave and paternity leave

In over 20 countries, the majority of paid leave is offered to the mother, with little to no leave offered as either paternity or more general parental leave.

Some countries that offer minimal paternal leave include:

  • Canada

  • Israel

  • Slovakia

  • Switzerland

  • Costa Rica

  • New Zealand

However, 34 of the 41 countries that offer some type of paid maternity leave also have some sort of mandated paid paternity leave or parental leave that is avaliable.

For instance, in Japan, parental leave is split equally and can be taken by both parents for up to 1 year. In Portugal, Norway, Luxembourg, and Iceland, there is around 2 months or more of paid leave that can be taken by either parent.

How does the US compare to other countries for maternity leave?

The United States does not have any statutory minimum for maternity leave compared to other countries. A staggering 72% of new moms in the US either work full-time or part-time directly following child birth. In fact, over half of all two-parent family households in the US have both parents working full-time.

According to the New York Times, Congress has long considered offering between 4-12 weeks of paid leave following childbirth as a mandatory benefit for employees in the US. However, as of right now, only federal workers are entitled to 4 weeks of paid maternity leave. Some companies offer a certain number of weeks of unpaid leave, but there is no law that regulates the amount of paid family leave businesses must offer.

Some states have opted to create their own laws regarding mandated leave and offer some sort of maternity or parental leave following childbirth, including:

  • California

  • New Jersey

  • New York

  • Rhode Island

  • Washington D.C.

This lack of paid maternity leave raises questions as to why a country considered to be one of the most developed in the world lacks maternity leave compared to the rest of the world.

What are the benefits of paid maternity leave?

Advocates of paid maternity and parental leave policies in the US argue that maternity leave not only encourages bonding and development during the early stages of a child’s life, but also empowers women to participate in the workforce. Data supports the idea. According to the Washington Post, “Advocates of paid leave argue that it improves the well-being of both parents and babies by enabling parents to take time off while ensuring some job and income protection.”

Many workers in the United States experience some type of anxiety when taking any time off. This anxiety creates a culture of burnout among employees, while also reinforcing the idea that companies do not see their employees as anything other than another cog in the machine.

Most importantly, not recognizing one of the most significant times in a new parent’s life, the birth of a child, makes it hard for workers to feel valued and appreciated by their employers. This creates less incentive for employees to perform optimally or show loyalty, especially if they are required to find child care immediately following childbirth.

How can US companies implement maternity leave?

Instead of waiting for the United States government to change policies surrounding maternity and parental leave, employers can show incentive by offering their own maternity and parental leave in employee benefit packages to follow international trends for leave.

The main step in creating these benefit packages is to research maternity and parental leave in other countries. What is the standard amount of maternity leave across the globe? How does maternity and parental leave factor into employee work ethic? What is the standard pay rate for maternity leave?

Using other countries that already have these policies as part of their standard practice will help your HR team craft strong employee compensation and benefit packages.

By implementing what is already the standard practice in other countries for maternity and parental leave, businesses have the opportunity to be ahead of some of the more slow moving policies in the United States. This will make your company standout as one that both values their employees' work/life balance, as well as garner interest from top talent.

Why companies choose Via

For some employers, navigating compensation and benefit packages for maternity leave can be confusing. The process takes a lot of knowledge about what is appropriate for time off and what is a good standard for paid leave. That’s why a lot of businesses partner with an EOR service like Via. We expedite the process of hiring and recruiting, setting up HR, and adhering to all employment laws in other countries.

With Via, we help you hire, onboard, and pay remote employees across the world. As your employer-of-record abroad, we take care of the local human resources (HR) logistics, such as salary, payroll, benefits, paid leave, and tax deductions. Maintaining compliance is our responsibility. You simply focus on building your team and running your business.

Learn more about our employer-of-record (EOR) services.

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Janelle Watson
Janelle Watson
My name is Janelle Watson and I'm a Colorado native. I have a BA in English from University of Colorado Colorado Springs and an MA in English from University of Colorado Denver. Before moving to blog and copywriting, I was an English teacher for 3 years at the University of Colorado in Denver. Prior to writing for Via, I wrote reviews and content for a local concert and promotion company in Denver.

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