Cross-Country Comparison of Leave Policies Reveals Important Differences

19 Sep 2019

The latest review of global leave policies and related research is now available from the International Network on Leave Policies and Research. Two STI experts, Allison Koslowski and Alexandra Macht, were among the authors of this 15th edition of the report. It is excerpted below.

This report is about leave entitlements, mainly for workers with dependent children. Working parents today in more affluent countries are often entitled to a range of different types of leave. It covers the most common provisions: maternity, paternity and parental leaves; sick-child leave and other support measures for working parents; as well as early childhood education and care.

Country note data are reviewed from 45 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Uruguay.

Individual country notes define and detail the different types of leave; the relationship between leave policy and early childhood education and care policy; recent policy developments and take-up rates. The review further makes cross-country comparisons, which cover types of leave and their relationship to ECEC entitlements, and any developments in policy since the previous edition.

Maternity leave is generally available to mothers only as a health and welfare measure, intended to protect the health of the mother and newborn child, and to be taken just before, during and immediately after childbirth. Paternity leave is generally available to fathers only, usually to be taken soon after the birth of a child, and intended to enable the father to spend time with his partner, new child and older children. Parental leave is available equally to mothers and fathers, either as: (i) a non-transferable individual right (i.e. both parents have an entitlement to an equal amount of leave); or (ii) an individual right that can be transferred to the other parent; or (iii) a family right that parents can divide between themselves as they choose. It is generally understood to be a care measure, intended to give both parents an equal opportunity to spend time caring for a young child; it usually can only be taken after the end of Maternity leave. In some cases, parents can choose to take all or part of their Parental leave on a part-time basis.

In some countries, Parental leave may be available to both partners in same-sex partnerships.

In some countries, Parental leave is supplemented by a further period of leave intended also as a care measure, and given various names, such as ‘childcare leave’ or ‘home care leave’. This leave is for parents following the end of Parental leave, and may not in practice be very different to Parental leave.

This entitlement varies considerably between countries in terms of length, age of children included and payment. In some cases, it may be extended to include certain adult relatives.

The distinction between these types of leave is beginning to blur in some countries, leading to the emergence of a single, generic Parental leave entitlement.

Many countries have a statutory and designated, paid Maternity leave entitlement, while others provide paid leave that women may or must take at and around childbirth, but this leave has a generic designation, such as ‘Parental leave’ and can, in certain circumstances, be taken by fathers. Only the United States makes no provision nationally for paid leave for women at the time of pregnancy and childbirth, though the possibility of unpaid ‘family and medical leave’ exists for mothers working for employers with 50 or more employees.

Just as Maternity leave is gender-specific, so too is the usual definition of Paternity leave, being an entitlement only for fathers. Increasingly, same-sex partners of birth mothers and other co-parents can be included in this entitlement.

However, as Parental leave in several countries includes a period that only fathers can take (sometimes referred to as a ‘father’s quota’), the distinction between Paternity leave and father-only Parental leave can be unclear and confusing.

Across countries, there are different dimensions of flexibility in the implementation of Paternity leave. The most common forms of flexibility in Paternity leave policy are in relation to the period during which the leave can be taken and regarding entitlements to additional time for multiple births. In three countries, it is obligatory for fathers to take some or all of their Paternity leave.

All EU member states must provide at least four months’ Parental leave per parent, under the terms of Directive 2010/18/EU. The directive defines this leave as enabling parents ‘to take care of (a) child until a given age. No payment or flexibility requirements are specified by the directive. In April 2019, the European Parliament adopted a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers, repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU. After the Council formally approve the Directive, EU countries will have three years to comply with them. The Directive will bring: ten working days of Paternity leave, paid at no less than the level of sick pay; two months of non-transferable, paid Parental leave; five days of annual carer’s leave; and flexible working patterns. This is not, therefore, yet reflected in the April 2019 review.

Around half of the non-EU countries in this review also provide Parental leave. The exceptions are Brazil, Chile, China, Mexico, South Africa, Switzerland (the only European country included in this review not to provide Parental leave, though not an EU member state), and United States (which has a generic and unpaid ‘family and medical leave’ that is not applicable to private employers with fewer than 50 employees).

Parental leave varies on four main dimensions: length; whether it is an individual or family entitlement; payment; and flexibility.

Childcare leave can usually be taken immediately after Parental leave, creating a continuous, longer period of leave, even if the conditions (such as the benefit paid) may not be the same. It is, however, much less common than Parental leave, being available in just ten countries.

With four exceptions, countries include some provision to take leave in the case of the illness of a child. For European Union member states, the Parental leave directive gives all workers an entitlement to ‘time off from work on grounds of force majeure for urgent family reasons in cases of sickness or accident making their immediate presence indispensable,’ without specifying minimum requirements for length of time or payment. In some cases, leave is allocated in the number of days in total in a given year; in others, it is allocated in terms of number of days per illness. Leave is often paid and often at a high level of income replacement, usually without an upper limit. In some cases, the length of leave entitlement decreases as children get older. Along with length, payment varies considerably.

Legislation which entitles women to reduce working hours specifically during their child’s early months is reasonably common across the countries in the review. In most cases, this is to facilitate the (breast)feeding of the child; but in several cases, it has become a general right that can be taken for any reason and/or by the father. Finally, in a handful of countries, parents have a legal right to request flexible working hours from their employers.

In most countries, adoptive parents have similar leave entitlements to other parents.

See the full report and individual country reports here.

Koslowski, A., Blum, S., Dobrotić, I., Macht, A. and Moss, P. (2019) International Review of Leave Policies and Research 2019.