New parents need time to care for an infant and to adjust to a new family dynamic. That often means temporarily taking a step back from work.
While it may not be ideal for employers, it’s necessary for the health and wellbeing of employees and their families. A few weeks off is also a drop in the bucket compared to years of dedicated talent that may otherwise leave the workforce.
Depending on where your business operates, time off can mean different things. How many weeks an employee can take and how they will be compensated varies from one country to the next—and it all factors into how businesses and their employees rate the policies for paid time off.
So, which countries have the “best” maternity leave?
Best countries for maternity leave
From an employee’s perspective, the best countries for maternity leave offer the longest duration of leave with flexibility and compensation. From an employer’s perspective, it comes down to how that compensation is funded.
Some countries put the burden on the employer to cover wages during maternity leave, while others have a social security system in place to foot the bill.
With these things in mind, the top five countries for maternity leave are:
3. United Kingdom
The eastern European country of Bulgaria is the most generous with maternity leave. Female workers are entitled to up to 410 days of maternity leave provided in a phased approach. This leave is funded at nearly full pay, covering 90% of the employee’s salary through social security.
Here’s what new parents and their employers need to know about maternity leave in Bulgaria:
By law, maternity leave begins 45 days prior to the birth.
All mothers receive 42 days of leave post-birth, regardless of infant survival.
An additional 48 days of regular maternity leave is given after the mother is released from the hospital.
The balance of 275 is a discretionary entitlement based on family needs. If a mother requests the additional leave in writing, the employer is obligated to honor it.
In Greece, employees can take just shy of one year off from their jobs for maternity leave with a total of 43 weeks. During leave, employees are compensated through a combination of employer and social security funding. As a global employer, you’ll be on the hook for at least 50% of the worker’s salary.
Here’s how it works:
Female employees are entitled to eight weeks of leave before birth and nine weeks post-birth, for basic maternity leave totaling 17 weeks.
Additional leave up to a total of 43 weeks can be taken by reducing daily hours worked over several months.
The United Kingdom has a similar maternity leave policy as Greece, granting employees up to 39 weeks of paid leave with a maximum of 52 weeks, including unpaid time.
Employees are guaranteed 90% of their average weekly earnings for at least six weeks. The remainder of the leave is paid at a rate of whichever is lower—the minimum statutory payment of €151.97 a day or 90% of their salary.
Employers are on the hook for paying these employees upfront but should be able to recover up to 92% from the UK government when filing taxes. However, individual tax situations vary from one business to another.
In the UK, here’s what you can expect:
Female employees are entitled to 26 weeks of regular maternity leave with an additional 26 weeks at their discretion.
Leave begins automatically within four weeks of the due date if the female employee misses work for a pregnancy-related reason, or immediately after birth in an otherwise healthy pregnancy.
When it comes to determining which country has the best maternity leave, the UK strikes a good balance between the length/flexibility of the leave and the employer burden.
You may be noticing a trend with European countries and their maternity leave policies.
Croatia offers a generous 30 weeks of maternity leave, typically beginning 28 days prior to the birth and lasting until the child is six months old. Additional parental leave is available once the child is six months old, as needed.
Employees in Croatia are paid 100% of their typical salary, with few exceptions for irregular workers whose typical salary is not easily determined. Maternity benefits are paid through social security programs and are factored into an employer’s statutory contributions.
Compulsory leave begins 28 days prior to birth in healthy pregnancies and 45 days prior in the event of complications.
Compulsory leave lasts at least 70 days following the birth of a child.
Additional parental leave is available until the child reaches eight years of age. Parental leave between eight months (first child) and 30 months (subsequent children or multiples) is available to both parents and can be taken consecutively or as needed to care for the family. Parental leave is in addition to compulsory maternity leave for expectant mothers.
Some South American countries are adopting family-friendly leave policies, as well. For example, in Chile, workers can take up to 30 weeks of maternity leave, with 18 weeks considered standard. Women are entitled to six weeks before and 12 weeks after the birth of their child.
Complications before or after birth can extend the statutory leave requirements, with premature birth and low birth weights earning an additional six weeks of post-birth leave.
In Chile, standard maternity leave is paid by the social security system. But if more time is needed, workers can take an additional 12 weeks (up to the maximum of 30 weeks) of flexible leave.
Depending on the arrangement with the employer, this could include working reduced hours in exchange for subsidized payments. The details tend to get more fluid in these arrangements based on the provisions in the labor agreement.
Final thoughts on maternity leave for your global business
When it comes to which country has the best maternity leave, you may have noticed that the United States is absent from our list. Sadly, that’s not a mistake. The U.S. is among a smaller list of countries that don’t mandate any maternity leave.
Employers in the U.S. are free to choose whether or not they will compensate employees for family and medical leave. While there are several companies, like Google and Netflix, that offer generous, family-friendly leave policies, it’s not the norm. In fact, a slim 12% of female American workers have access to any paid time off for maternity leave.
As a global employer, offering generous maternity leave benefits above and beyond any statutory requirements will earn you praise among the workforce and help you attract and retain better talent.
The participation of women in the workforce is declining. Less than half (46.9%) of women worldwide work today, compared to 51% in 1990. And as more women choose to stay home to raise families, their talent goes with them. Taking a proactive stance by adopting family-friendly policies that include flexible, paid maternity leave can help to bring them back.