Maternity leave refers to the period of time that a mother takes off from work following the birth of her baby. Many companies that offer maternity leave for mothers will allow the same for father, typically referred to as paternity leave.
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 of a child or after the adoption of a child. There are exceptions to this law such as the business being less than 50 employees, the parent being employed with the company for less than 12 months, and if the employee earns within the top 10% of wages in the company.
While the law requires a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents, companies have the option to extend the number of weeks and offer a partial salary to parents, although this is not required. The minimum required paid maternity leave in the U.S. is zero weeks. The U.S. has the fewest maternity leaves protections or benefits of any country.
Parents expecting to take maternity should plan ahead financially for several weeks of no pay or reduced pay, in addition to the extra costs associated with newborn babies.
Around the world, the number of weeks allowed for maternity leave and the percentage of pay varies by country.
Countries with the Full-Paid Maternity Leave
Some countries offer mothers their full-rate salary for the weeks that they take maternity leave. These countries are:
- The Netherlands
- Costa Rica
In addition to offering 100% of the mother’s salary, the required weeks of maternity leave in these countries range from six weeks in Portugal to 30 weeks in Croatia.
Countries with the Longest Minimum Maternity Leaves
Some countries around the world have long minimum periods for maternity leave. The countries that have the longest minimum paid maternity leaves are:
- Bulgaria – 58.6 weeks
- Greece – 43 weeks
- United Kingdom – 39 weeks
- Croatia – 30 weeks
- Chile - 30 weeks
- Czech Republic – 28 weeks
- Ireland – 26 weeks
- Hungary – 24 weeks
- Italy – 21.7 weeks
- Poland – 20 weeks
- Luxembourg – 20 weeks
- Estonia – 20 weeks
These are the minimum required weeks for maternity leave. Many countries give parents the option to extend their leave. In Estonia, mothers can take 20 of fully paid maternity leave followed by 62 weeks of the maximum paid parental leave.
In several countries, such as in Chile, mothers are required to take leave for a number of weeks before their due date. In Chile, mothers are required to take six weeks before births and 12 weeks after. In Austria, mothers are obligated to take leave eight weeks before birth and eight weeks after.