Maternity leave is the time, typically measured in weeks, a mother takes off from work following the birth of her baby. Many employers also offer leave for the father, typically referred to as paternity leave. Maternity and/or paternity leave may or may not be paid. As such, expectant parents may have to accommodate a reduction of income while on leave in addition to the added costs associated with newborn babies.
Around the world, minimum maternity leave guidelines are often regulated by law—and in many cases funded by the government—with employers free to offer better terms if they wish. As a result, the number of weeks granted for maternity leave and the percentage of pay received during that time varies from one country, state (where applicable), and employer to the next.
Top 10 Countries with the Longest Minimum Maternity Leaves (in weeks):
- Bulgaria — 58.6 weeks
- Greece — 43 weeks
- United Kingdom — 39 weeks
- Slovakia — 34 weeks
- Croatia — 30 weeks
- Chile — 30 weeks
- Czech Republic — 28 weeks
- Ireland — 26 weeks
- Hungary — 24 weeks
- New Zealand — 22 weeks
Minimum, optional, and pre-birth maternity leaves
While the numbers above are the minimum required weeks for maternity leave, many countries give parents the option to extend their leave. In Estonia, mothers can take 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave followed by 62 weeks of optional "bonus" parental leave. These optional weeks may pay a different percentage of the mother or father's income—for example, Austria offers a minimum of 16 weeks at 100% pay, then an optional 44 additional weeks at 73.1% pay.
In several countries, such as in Chile, maternity leave begins several weeks before the expected birth date of the child. In Chile, mothers are required to begin their leave six weeks before their due date, then extend it for 12 weeks after (with possible adjustments if the due date proves incorrect). In Austria, mothers are obligated to take leave from eight weeks before their due date to eight weeks after the birth.
Maternity leave in the United States
In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires covered employers to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth or adoption of a child. Multiple exceptions to this law exist, such as when an employer has fewer than 50 employees, when the expectant parent has been employed by the company for fewer than 12 months, and when the employee earns within the top 10% of wages in the company. While FMLA requires a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents, employers have the option to extend the number of weeks and offer a partial salary to parents if desired.
The minimum required paid maternity leave in the U.S. is zero weeks. Moreover, the U.S. has fewer maternity leave protections and benefits than any other country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international alliance that includes many of the world's most developed and highest-income countries.. However, many states, including California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, and the non-state District of Columbia have created their own plans to offer paid maternity leave.
Countries with Full-Rate Paid Maternity Leave
In addition to offering expectant mothers maternity leave ranging from a minimum of six weeks (Portugal) to 30 weeks (Croatia), the following countries further require that mothers receive their full-rate salary or wage throughout the duration of their maternity leave:
Other countries require payments that may not reach 100% of the usual amount, but which still represent a very high percentage of the mother's normal income. For example: Norway at 94%, France at 90%, and Bulgaria at 90%.