What is Maternity Leave?
Maternity leave is a time when a woman stops working to care for her newborn child. Maternity leave can happen in the weeks or months before and after the birth of a child. It is often considered when a woman takes time off work to recover from childbirth and care for her baby. Maternity leave is designed to provide new moms enough time to deliver their babies, recover, care for them, and form a relationship with their children before returning to work.
Maternity leave, in general, comprises statutory maternity leave (the time employees are legally allowed to miss work), statutory maternity pay (the number of income employees get while on leave), and any other workplace benefits to which employees are legally entitled.
Employees can take the predetermined amount of time off from work after giving the required notice. For the duration of the statutory maternity leave, the employer must keep the position to allow the employee to return to work under this type of leave.
Maternity protection laws help women effectively juggle their reproductive and productive responsibilities and advance equitable workplace opportunities and treatment without compromising their health or financial stability.
The company should anticipate requests for time off when an employee is pregnant. If the woman desires it or experiences issues during pregnancy, maternity leave may begin before the baby's birth; otherwise, it may commence after the baby is delivered.
Some businesses could provide pregnant workers additional maternity benefits in their employment contracts on top of the legally required leave. This may entail higher compensation or longer maternity leave, for instance.
Women in The Workplace
There are 7.8 billion people on earth, and most are women. Ironically, women worldwide only have a small fraction of the rights that males do. This is the same in the workplace too.
According to research, women make up 47.7% of the workforce worldwide, with Canada having the highest percentage of female labour force participation at 61.3%. Other interesting statistics are listed below:
- Women make up 2% of the workforce among those with college degrees.
- Women make up just 1% of managers and leaders.
- 61% of women believe that having children hinders their ability to advance.
- Women report having experienced 42% gender discrimination in the workplace.
- Women hold entry-level positions to the tune of 48%.
Regarding children or care, compared to 21.7% of women, only 1.5% of males (41 million) provide unpaid care. Due to their unpaid caring obligations, women are frequently discouraged from accepting paid jobs. According to studies, women perform unpaid caregiving tasks for 4 hours and 25 minutes per day, compared to men's 1 hour and 23 minutes. In contrast, although men's daily caregiving time grew by 8 minutes between 1997 and 2012, it decreased for women by just 15 minutes.
Motherhood significantly impacts how quickly women may rise in the workplace. More than half claim that becoming mothers is the reason behind this. An essential component of a comprehensive work-family policy is maternity protection, which is also a fundamental human right. It is vital to boost mother and child health and eliminate employment discrimination against women. This is one of the reasons that maternity leave is a hot topic in the workplace.
History of Maternity Leave
November 29, 2019, was the day being a woman in the workplace changed forever. New mothers have never had it easy, but they achieved a significant win this weekend a century ago. The Maternity Protection Convention of 1919 was ratified on November 29, 1919, by the fledgling International Labour Organization. It stipulated 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, free prenatal and postpartum care, employment guarantees upon return to work, and frequent pauses to breastfeed infants. How did this alliance of political, business, and labor leaders suggest such a progressive course of action a century ago? It was not a decision. As a question of social justice and international security in the wake of World War I, feminists and female trade unionists demanded equitable labour standards for working women, including paid maternity leave. The world's leaders bowed.
After this, another declaration was made (1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)), which stated that social security and particular care should be provided to mothers and children. Special protection is also offered to mothers in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), including paid leave or leave with sufficient social security benefits.
Maternity protection also became recognized as a fundamental right and is handled systematically in all areas of the 1979 Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which asks for particular measures to provide this protection.
The Maternity Protection Convention (No. 183), which the ILC most recently adopted in 2000, is one of two more Conventions that have been added to Recommendations on maternity protection. As one of the nine social security branches established by the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952, the provision of maternity leave and monetary compensation in pregnancy was also recognized as such (No. 102). According to the ILO recommendation regarding national floors of social protection, 2012 (No. 202), maternity benefits should be provided as part of the fundamental social security guarantees that make up national social protection floors, including access to maternity care and basic income security for people in active age who are unable to earn enough money due to, among other reasons, maternity. These have all gone a long way in ensuring maternity leave is provided to all female employees worldwide.
Who is Eligible for Maternity Leave?
Biological moms and those who adopt or foster children are entitled to maternity leave in several nations. An employee must often fulfil requirements to be eligible for statutory maternity leave.
These prerequisites might consist of:
- The amount of time the individual has worked for their employer continuously.
- The employee contributes to certain state funds, such as national insurance.
- Size of the employer (e.g., number of employees in the company).
- Periods of notice and pregnancy documentation are occasionally necessary as well.
How Long is Maternity Leave?
The amount of leave time sought and utilized can directly be impacted by the expense of taking time off work for childbirth. Women are the major breadwinners in 40% of homes with children under 18 and over two-thirds of all moms. According to some research, 25% of women return to work within two weeks after giving birth, most commonly for financial reasons.
Women are becoming less and less prevalent in the workforce. Today, 46.9% of women worldwide are employed, down from 51% in 1990. Furthermore, when more women decide to stay home and raise their kids, their skill follows them. It is possible to encourage them back by enacting family-friendly policies that include flexible, compensated maternity leave.
While 70% of women say they take some time off after giving birth, 16% say they only take 1 to 4 weeks; 50% take at least 5 weeks off, and 25% take 9 weeks or more. The remaining one-third of moms return to work practically soon after giving birth, skipping any time off.
Maternity leave regulations differ in every country, so staying compliant when building a global team can be challenging. Although it is a required employee perk in virtually every nation, maternity leave doesn't always follow the same rules. Different jurisdictions have different requirements, leave policies, and maternity pay amounts. To remain compliant when recruiting internationally, you must be aware of all the relevant laws; yet, doing so on your own can be challenging. The health and financial stability of mothers and their offspring must be safeguarded by paid maternity leave.
Maternity leave durations throughout the world are gradually moving in the direction of meeting or exceeding ILO standards. The standards state that a woman to whom this Convention applies should be entitled to a term of maternity leave of not less than 14 weeks. Convention No. 183, Article 4(1). It also says that members should make every effort to extend the deadline. During the period of maternity leave stipulated in Article 4 of Recommendation 191, Paragraph 1 (1), a minimum of 18 weeks is customary.
Let us take a look at the different trends and practices across countries.
When it comes to the typical length of maternity leave, the United States falls short. Among the more than 120 nations that mandate paid maternity leave and health benefits, the Czech Republic has the longest paid maternity leave, at 28 weeks. Only 33 countries need maternity leaves that are less than 12 weeks.
119 nations presently adhere to the norms set out by the ILO for maternity leave. The ideal length of maternity leave is at least 14 weeks. However, the standards call for a minimum of 12 weeks. And according to the ILO's criteria, women must get at least two-thirds of their pre-leave wages in addition to full health insurance coverage.
Depending on how many children a woman already has, how frequently she gives birth, how long she has worked for the company, and her working hours, she may not be eligible for paid leave in some countries.
For instance, some nations only let women take two paid breaks during their careers, while others demand that they wait three years between each leave period.
The top nations for maternity leave, from the employee's viewpoint, provide the most time off with flexibility and pay. It all depends on how that remuneration is provided in the eyes of the employer.
While some nations require employers to pay salaries during maternity leave, others have social security systems to cover the cost.
Examples of 10 nations' policies for maternity leave are as follows in light of these considerations:
For the first 18 months of their child's life, female employees in Estonia earning the average pay can take job-protected leave, consisting of 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave followed by the first 62 weeks of a maximum compensated parental leave. After then, until the kid reaches three, the monthly payments significantly decrease.
Eight weeks before and eight weeks after giving birth, women are required to take unpaid leave, during which they are not permitted to work. Employees get an unlimited maternity benefit equal to their average net income for the prior three months.
The cost of maternity leave is two-thirds of a woman's typical weekly salary for 14 weeks, of which six are required. Then, until the child is one, both moms and fathers are eligible to take parental leave; nevertheless, women are more likely to do so. If both parents use it, the extension period might last up to 14 months.
Unicef lists Sweden as the 17th most maternity leave-friendly nation in the world. Women are entitled to 480 days of parental leave, of which 90 days are set aside for each parent, after 10 weeks of paid maternity leave.
In Iceland, all parents, even those who are jobless or in school, are entitled to paid leave, but those who are newly hired or self-employed are only entitled to 80% of their pay. But on average, women earn significantly less than men do in terms of parental leave due to the gender pay gap. According to Unicef, women tend to take more time off due to high breastfeeding rates and wage disparities.
One of the most lenient countries for maternity leave is Bulgaria. Female employees are eligible for up to 410 days of phased-in maternity leave. This leave is paid almost in full, with social security paying 90% of the employee's wage.
What new parents should know about Bulgarian maternity leave is as follows:
- Maternity leave officially starts 45 days before the baby is born.
- Regardless of the baby's survival, all moms are given 42 days leave after giving birth.
- After the mother is discharged from the hospital, she is granted an extra 48 days of ordinary maternity leave.
Depending on family requirements, the remaining 275 is a discretionary entitlement. The employer must comply with a mother's written request for additional leave.
In Greece, workers are permitted to take 43 weeks of maternity leave or a little under one year. Employees are paid during leaves of absence using a combination of company and social security funds. You will be responsible for paying at least half of the employee's wage as a worldwide employer.
This is how it goes:
For 17 weeks of basic maternity leave, female employees are entitled to eight weeks of leave before childbirth and nine weeks of leave following childbirth.
By lowering the number of hours worked each day over several months, more leave can be taken up to a total of 43 weeks.
8. United Kingdom
Similar to Greece, the United Kingdom offers employees up to 39 weeks of paid leave, with a total of 52 weeks, including unpaid time off.
- For a minimum of six weeks, employees are guaranteed 90 percent of their typical weekly wages.
- The minimum statutory payment of €151.97 per day or 90% of their wage is paid during the remaining leave, whichever is lower.
- Employers are responsible for paying these workers up front, but they should be able to recoup up to 92 percent of their costs when filing their taxes with the UK government.
Individual tax arrangements, however, differ from firm to business.
Here is what to anticipate in the UK:
- Female employees are entitled to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, with the option of taking an extra 26 weeks.
- If a female employee is absent from work due to pregnancy-related reasons, or if the pregnancy is generally healthy and the baby is delivered within four weeks of the due date, leave starts automatically.
The UK balances the length/flexibility of the leave with the burden on the employer well, making it the nation with the best maternity leave.
You might have noticed a pattern in the maternity leave laws of European nations.
In general, maternity leave in Croatia lasts for 30 weeks, from 28 days before the due date until the kid is six months old. Once the kid is six months old, more parental leave is available as needed.
- With limited exceptions for irregular workers whose usual income is difficult to ascertain, Croatian employees are paid 100% of their normal salary. Social Security programs include maternity benefits, which are taken into account when calculating an employer's required payments.
- In healthy pregnancies, mandatory leave starts 28 days before delivery; in cases of problems, it starts 45 days before.
- Following the birth of a child, mandatory leave is in effect for at least 70 days.
- More parental leave is possible until the kid becomes eight years old. Both parents are eligible for parental leave, which can be used consecutively or as needed to care for the family and ranges from eight months (for the first child) to 30 months (for further children or multiples). In addition to the required maternity leave for expecting moms, there is also parental leave.
Employees in Chile are permitted to take up to 30 weeks of maternity leave, with 18 weeks being the norm. A woman has the right to six weeks before and twelve weeks following the birth of their kid.
- Premature birth and low birth weights qualify for an additional six weeks of postpartum leave, which can increase the statutory leave requirements.
- Social Security covers the cost of standard maternity leave. Employees may take an extra 12 weeks of flexible leave, up to 30 weeks, if more time is required.
Depending on the company, this can entail putting in fewer hours in return for subsidized compensation. Based on the terms of the labour agreement, the specifics of these agreements tend to become increasingly ambiguous.
Countries Without Maternity Leave
The United States is the only member without a paid family leave program in the OECD, a grouping of countries with the greatest economies. Eight governments worldwide do not mandate paid family leave, the majority of which are Pacific island states. The other seven include Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and five island states in the Pacific Ocean.
Global Maternity Leave against ILO Standards
Most nations around the globe abide by the guidelines of Convention No. 183 on the length of pregnancy leave. According to a report by ILO, the majority of the 185 nations and territories (98 countries) offer maternity leaves at least 14 weeks long, per Convention No. 183. 42 of those nations comply with or go above the 18 weeks of leave recommended in Recommendation No. 191. Sixty nations offer 12 to 13 weeks of leave, which is less than the 183-week limit but still in line with the minimum requirement of 12 weeks imposed by Conventions Nos. 3 and 103. Only 27 nations (about 15%) offer maternity leaves that are less than 12 weeks.
The purpose of this white paper was to educate the reader on all you need to know about maternity leave and how it is treated in different countries. It needs to be noted that although strides have been made to provide this benefit, a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure all countries are compliant.
Fadzai Danha is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.
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