By,

Sophie Maes, Firm:  Claeys & Engels

Nataša Randlová, Firm: Randl Partners

 Yvonne Frederiksen, Firm: Norrbom Vinding

Jean-Benoit Cottin, Firm: Capstan

Alexander Ulrich 

Emanuela Nespoli, Firm: Toffoletto De Luca 

Marieke ten Broeke

Claude Lenth, Firm: Hjort

Grzegorz Ruszczyk,

Ines Rels

Petter Wenehult, Firm: Elmzell

Rene Hirsiger, Firm: Blesi & Papa

Gemma Taylor, Firm: Lewis Silkin LLP

Amy Littrell

 

Ius Laboris has conducted a comparative survey of maternity, paternity and parental leave entitlements and allowances in 14 jurisdictions. The findings are presented here.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Maternity leave amounts to 15 weeks in total. For multiple births, maternity leave is 17 weeks.

Maternity leave is split into two periods, a period before (‘prenatal rest’) and after the date of delivery (‘postnatal rest’). At the request of the employee, prenatal rest can start as early as six weeks before the expected date of delivery or eight weeks for multiple births. The pregnant employee must, however, stop working seven days prior to the expected date of delivery at the latest. Postnatal rest is at least nine weeks and starts on the day of the delivery. If the employee worked during the discretionary period of five weeks before the date of delivery, the postnatal rest period may be extended by the amount of time worked in this period.

During maternity leave, the employee receives allowances from public health insurance. These equal 82% of the employee’s gross salary during the first 30 days and 75% of the employee’s gross salary, up to a cap, from the 31st day.

After returning to work and for seven months following the date of delivery, the employee is can be entitled to take breaks of 30 minutes to breastfeed or to use a breast pump. During these breaks, the employee is entitled to an allowance from public health insurance. This amounts to 82% of a capped gross salary. The employer need not make any payments to the employee for these breaks.

Employees who take these types of leave are protected against dismissal.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The father is entitled to be absent from work for the birth of the child for ten days, which he can nominate within a period of four months from the day of delivery. For the first three days, the employer must continue paying the employee’s normal gross salary. For the remaining seven days, the employee is entitled to an allowance paid by the Public Health Insurance.

A co-parent (e.g. lesbian partner of the mother of the child) is entitled to be absent from work for ten days for the birth of the child, which he or she can choose to take within a period of four months from the day of the birth. For the first three days, the employer must continue paying the employee’s normal gross salary. For the remaining seven days, the employee is entitled to an allowance of 82 % of his or her capped gross salary paid by public health insurance.

Employees who take these types of leave are protected against dismissal.

Note that Belgium also has a system of adoption leave and leave for foster care.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

During the period of maternity leave the employment contract is suspended.

On their return, the employee can also request parental leave or time credit, explained below.

Parental leave (open to the mother and the father)

Employees can take parental leave until the child reaches the age of 12. If the child is disabled, parental leave is granted for as long as the child has not reached the age of 21 at the moment the parental leave starts. The maximum duration of parental leave amounts to four months’ full-time equivalent, that is, four months full-time (both for full-time and part-time employees) or eight months part-time (only for full-time employees); or 20 months with a one-fifth reduction in working hours (only for full-time employees); or 40 months with a one-tenth reduction in working hours (only for full-time employees). To be entitled to parental leave, the employee must have been employed by the organisation for at least 12 months over the 15 months before the application for parental leave. The employee will receive allowances paid by the Unemployment Office covering the period he or she does not work. Employees who take parental leave are protected against dismissal.

Time credit (open to the mother and the father)

An employee may apply for what is known in Dutch and French as a ‘time credit with motive’ (that is, for a reason) to:

  • care for his or her child(ren) under the age of eight;
  • care for his or her child if the child is disabled and under the age of 21;
  • care for his or her seriously ill minor (i.e. under 18) child or a seriously ill minor child that is part of the employee’s family.

This time credit can be taken full time, half time or by means of a reduction of one fifth in working time. The way in which the time credit is taken does not affect the maximum limit (combined or not), which is 51 months for all the types of time credit with a 'care motive’.

In principle, a collective bargaining agreement at national level, industry level or within the organisation is needed for employees to be entitled to ‘time credit with motive’, with the exception of:

  • care for a child, if the child is disabled and under the age of 21;
  • care for a seriously ill minor child or a seriously ill minor child that is part of the employee’s family;
  • a reduction by one fifth of working time for any of the above ‘’motives’.

To be entitled to a ‘time credit with motive’ the employee must have at least two years of service with the employer. The employee will receive allowances paid by the Unemployment Office covering the period the employee does not work. Employees that claim time credit are protected against dismissal.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Yes if the employee is entitled to parental leave (with the exception of a one-tenth reduction, which requires the employer's consent) or time credit.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Note that:

  • Postnatal leave can be extended if the child stays in the hospital for more than seven days after the birth (extended by the number of days or weeks the child stayed in the hospital longer than seven days after birth (up to a maximum of 24 weeks).
  • Postnatal leave can be extended for a maximum of one week if the employee is ill during the first six weeks of prenatal leave.
  • If the mother is hospitalised or dies, her maternity leave can be transferred to the father or other co-parent.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The regulations on maternity leave are mainly found in the Labour Code (Section 195 et seq.). Maternity leave begins at the beginning of the sixth week before the expected childbirth, but no earlier than the beginning of the eighth week before childbirth. The duration of maternity leave is 28 weeks (six to eight weeks before childbirth and 22 to 24 weeks after childbirth); if the employee gives birth to two or more children at the same time, she is entitled to 37 weeks of maternity leave (six to eight weeks before childbirth and 31 to 33 weeks after childbirth).

If the employee herself chooses to postpone maternity leave and not take the minimum six weeks of maternity leave before childbirth, she is still only entitled to 22 (31 for multiple births) weeks after childbirth. The voluntarily untaken part cannot therefore be transferred and used after childbirth. However, this does not apply if the child is unexpectedly born earlier than expected and, as a result, the mother did not take her minimum six-week maternity leave before childbirth. Her maternity leave will be counted from the birth and will finish after 28 (or 37) weeks.

Maternity leave related to childbirth must never be shorter than 14 weeks, and in no event can it be terminated or interrupted before six weeks from the birth date have elapsed. The employee’s average daily salary is the basis for calculating this allowance. It is, however, reduced by three ‘reduction limits’, which are established by legal regulations. The maternity allowance is then calculated at 70% of the reduced amount. No payment made by employer, with, of course, the exception of salary compensation for unused annual holiday, which the mother decides to take immediately after maternity leave.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Parental leave is regulated by the Labour Code (Section 196 et seq.) An employer is required to provide parental leave to its employee upon his or her request. Parental leave must be granted for the time period requested, but only until the child reaches three years of age. Female employees may take parental leave upon termination of their maternity leave and male employees may take parental leave from the day of the child’s birth. Female and male employees can take their parental leave at the same time (however only one of them is provided with parental allowance). During parental leave, the employee is entitled to parental allowance, which is paid directly by the Social Security Administration.

An employee may choose to draw parental allowance for an elected period, until the child reaches four years of age. Parental allowance is provided for the period of time described above until a maximum of CZK 220,000 has been paid out (Parliament is now discussing an increase to CZK 300,000). The amount is higher for twins, triplets and larger multiples. The duration for which parental allowance can be received is different from the period of parental leave and is not dependent on parental leave. An employee can carry out employment activities without losing his or her entitlement to parental allowance. However, during the period of this occupational activity, they must ensure that the child is in the care of another adult or a childcare facility.

In addition, a new post-natal benefit has been recently introduced under parental leave. Any father of a newborn child or foster parent of a child under the age of seven is entitled to this benefit within a period of six weeks following the date of birth of the child or the date the foster care begins. The support period is seven calendar days. Paternity leave begins on the date determined by the insured person within the period described above and it cannot be interrupted and restarted later. The amount of sickness benefit provided per calendar day is 70% of the reduced daily basis of assessment (the same basis as pre-existing maternity benefits). During this period both parents may receive their respective allowances (maternity allowance and paternity allowance) simultaneously regardless of the amount.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

Maternity and paternal leave are considered as impediments to work for the employee, meaning the contract still exists but no work is performed. If a female employee returns to work immediately after the end of her maternity leave, the employer must employ her in her original work position, original workplace and in the original kind of work (basically ‘at the same desk’). After parental leave, the employee must be employed in the kind of work that corresponds to their employment contract and in the place where the work is to be performed under their employment contract. In addition, if a female or male employee caring for a child aged under 15, or a pregnant woman asks for reduced working hours or another appropriate amendment to the statutory working week, the employer is required to allow their request, unless prohibited from doing so by serious operational reasons. The employer is also required to provide special rest intervals for nursing for a mother who is still breastfeeding her infant (up to the age of one year and three months) in addition to work breaks. These breaks are considered as part of working hours.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

As stated in answer to question 3, if a female or male employee caring for a child aged below 15 asks for reduced working hours or another appropriate amendment to the statutory working week, the employer is required to allow their request, unless prohibited from doing so by serious operational reasons.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

If the employee fails to attend and perform work for the employer after the end of parental leave, this is considered to be an inexcusable absence. However, this position has been slightly altered by a decision of the Supreme Court (No. 21 Cdo 4411/2007), according to which the employer cannot terminate the employment of an employee who has informed the employer that it is not possible put the child into nursery or into the care of another person.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

After the birth, the mother must take two weeks’ maternity leave and is entitled to take 12 additional weeks’ maternity leave. All employees on maternity leave are entitled to benefits from local authorities. These benefits amount to DKK 4,300 (approximately EUR 577) per week as of 1 January 2018. Salaried employees are entitled to receive 50% of their normal salary from their employer during maternity leave. Any salary paid during maternity leave will make the employer entitled to receive a refund from the local authorities of up to the benefit level that the employee would else have been entitled to receive from the local authorities (as described above). If the child needs to stay in hospital after the birth, maternity leave will be extended. If an employee on maternity leave falls sick and is therefore unable to take care of the child, the father assumes the mother’s right to maternity leave.

After the first 14 weeks following the birth, the parents are entitled to 32 weeks’ parental leave each. However, parents are only entitled to benefits from the local authority for a 32-week period in total (and these benefits must therefore be shared between the mother and the father). Therefore, if the parents wish to take more than 32 weeks parental leave in total, they are not entitled to any benefits from the local authority for leave in excess of the limit.

Parents may split the leave, take parental leave at the same time or postpone some of the leave. By law, the employee can postpone eight to 13 weeks of the parental leave to take at a later time before the child reaches nine years of age. Further, postponement of leave between one and 32 weeks can be agreed between the employer and the employee.

Employers commonly allow employees to receive full salary during pregnancy, maternity and paternity leave and sometimes during part of the parental leave. These entitlements are either agreed in individual contracts or collective agreements. The employer is entitled to receive benefits from the local authority by way of reimbursement.

A mandatory scheme known as ‘barsel.dk’ has been established on the private labour market to encourage employers to pay employees full salary during pregnancy, maternity and paternity leave. Under barsel.dk, it is less costly for employers to pay employees full salary during childbirth-related leave.

Members of the scheme (i.e. private sector employers) pay a minor contribution for each employee (DKK 950, approximately EUR 127 in 2018) per year for full-time employees and receive reimbursement corresponding to approximately the employee’s full salary, subject to a cap of DKK 185.79 per hour (approximately EUR 25). The amount the employer receives in reimbursement from barsel.dk is the difference between the benefits paid by the local authority and the employee’s full salary, subject to the hourly cap.

The employer can receive reimbursement from barsel.dk of up to 33 weeks, as follows:

  • four weeks during the mother’s pregnancy leave;
  • two weeks during the mother’s mandatory maternity leave;
  • two weeks’ during paternity leave; and
  • 25 weeks during parental leave to be used by the father, mother or to be shared.

The Danish rules on childbirth-related leave apply equally to adoption.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Fathers or lesbian co-mothers are entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave to be taken immediately after the birth or, if agreed with the employer, within the first 14 weeks after the birth. The father or the co-mother is entitled to benefits from the local authority during paternity leave. These benefits amount to DKK 4,300 (approximately EUR 577) per week as of 1 January 2018.

In addition, all fathers are entitled to take 32 weeks of parental leave.

After the first 14 weeks following the birth, the parents are entitled to 32 weeks’ parental leave each. However, parents are only entitled to benefits from the local authority for a 32-week period in total (and these benefits must therefore be shared between the mother and the father). Therefore, if the parents wish to take more than 32 weeks parental leave in total, they are not entitled to any benefits from the local authority for leave in excess of the limit.

Parents may split the leave, take parental leave at the same time or postpone some of the leave. By law, the employee can postpone eight to 13 weeks of the parental leave to take at a later time before the child reaches nine years of age. Further, postponement of leave between one and 32 weeks can be agreed between the employer and the employee.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

There is no statutory entitlement to contract suspension or a reduction in working hours for the parents in Denmark. Parents returning to work from maternity, paternity or parental leave can apply for a change of working conditions (including reduced or changed working hours) and in this case the employer is under an obligation to consider the application and must provide the employee with a reason for rejecting it. The employer is, however, not under an obligation to accept such an application.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

There is no statutory entitlement to part-time or flexible working for parents in Denmark. Parents returning to work from maternity, paternity or parental leave can apply for a change of working conditions (including reduced or changed working hours) and in this case the employer must consider the application and must provide the employee with a reason for rejecting it. The employer is, however, not under an obligation to accept such an application.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

No.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The duration of maternity leave varies according to the number of dependent children the mother already has before the child's birth.

Before the birth the mother is entitled to:

  • six weeks for a first or second unborn child;
  • eight weeks for a third or more.

The duration of the leave is 12 weeks for twins and 24 weeks for triplets or more.

After the birth the mother is entitled to:

  • ten weeks for a first or second unborn child;
  • 18 weeks for a third or more.

The duration of leave is 22 weeks for twins or more.

The mother may waive part of her leave, but she must stop working for at least eight weeks, six of which must be after the birth.

Subject to the favourable opinion of the doctor following the pregnancy, the employee may request a reduction in prenatal leave, up to a maximum of three weeks. In this case, the postnatal leave is increased by the same amount.

During maternity leave, the employee receives compensation from the Social Security Authority (up to a daily maximum of EUR 87.71), but the employer can top up the salary so the employee receives the full amount. Collective agreements usually make this mandatory.

At the end of her maternity leave, the employee must return to her previous job or a similar job with at least equivalent remuneration. She has to pass a return to work visit.

The pregnant employee benefits from a protective regime that applies if the employer plans to dismiss her. This means the employer cannot dismiss an employee on the grounds that she is pregnant or on maternity leave. The protection is absolute or relative; it varies according to the employee's situation.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

When a child is born, the father or the person living with the mother (i.e. lesbian partner) can receive paid leave as set out below:

  • 11 consecutive days for a single birth;
  • 18 consecutive days for multiple births.

This leave can be taken following birth leave or separately.

During paternity and welcome leave, the employee receives compensation from the Social Security Authority (up to a daily maximum of EUR 87.71).

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

Employees with more than one year’s service can take one year’s parental leave, renewable up to the child’s third birthday (children’s sixth birthday for triplets or more) plus one additional year for a disabled child. The employee is paid by the Social Security Authority (up to a maximum of EUR 397.20 monthly).

The employee can also benefit from part-time parental leave (and work part time for a minimum of 16 hours per week).

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Yes, employees with more than one year’s service can take one year’s parental leave, renewable up to the child’s third birthday (children’s sixth birthday for triplets or more) plus one additional year for a disabled child. The employee is paid by the Social Security Authority (up to a maximum of EUR 397.20 monthly).

The employee can also benefit from part-time parental leave (and work part time for a minimum of 16 hours per week).

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

No.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Maternity protection is regulated in the Maternity Protection Act, which came into force in 1952 and was renewed in 2017. This Act applies to employed women regardless of their seniority or their working hours. According to the statutory provisions there is a protection period before and a protection period after birth during which pregnant women and new mothers must not be employed.

The protection period before birth begins six weeks before the expected date of delivery. If the pregnant woman expressly agrees, she can wave this protection period and work until the birth. She can waive just a few days or weeks or the whole period. She still has the right to revoke the waiver at any time, but only with effect for the future: it does not have retrospective effect.

The protection period after birth totals eight weeks in general and cannot be waived. In cases of a premature birth, multiple birth or birth of a disabled child the period extends to twelve weeks. During these periods an employed woman receives maternity pay from her social health insurance or the Federal Social Insurance Authority and a contribution to maternity pay from her employer. The amount of maternity pay depends on the average net income from the last three months before the protection period and does not exceed EUR 13 per day.

The employer’s contribution to the maternity pay covers the difference between the maternity pay and the employee’s net income. This means that during the protection period an employed woman will receive payments corresponding to her net income before the protection period. In addition to the protection periods for maternity leave there are certain shorter periods according to s7 of the Maternity Protection Act during which pregnant women have a right to paid leave. This right to paid leave only applies for necessary medical check-ups, meaning these periods usually only amount to a couple of hours.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Parental leave is regulated in the Federal Parental Benefit and Parental Leave Act of 2006 (‘BEEG’). The BEEG applies to every parent and gives them the right to two claims: a claim for parental benefits paid by the state and a claim for parental leave from the employer. Both only apply to parents who care for their children themselves and share a household with them.

Parental benefit

Parental benefit is granted for parents, adopting parents and foster parents who take parental leave. It consists of a basic parental benefit, a ‘plus’ (additional) parental benefit and a partner bonus. According to s4 BEEG, the basic parental benefit can be taken for the first 14 months of the child’s life. The full 14 months are only granted if each parent takes two months minimum parental leave. This means that one parents cannot take more than twelve months basic parental leave alone. Single parents can take the full 14 months basic parental benefits without conditions.

According to s2 BEEG, the basic parental benefit amounts to 67% of the parents’ average net income during the twelve months before the birth, but not more than EUR 1,800 per month. Instead of taking basic parental benefit the parents can also take the ‘plus’ parental benefit according to s 4(3) BEEG. The parents can exchange one month of basic parental benefit for two months ‘plus’ parental benefit. In this case, the ‘plus’ parental benefit amounts to the half of the basic parental benefit. This means parents can choose between, for example, 14 months basic parental benefit amounting to 67% of their net income or 28 months’ ‘plus’ parental benefit amounting to 33.5% of their net income.

After the fourteenth month of the child’s life, the ‘plus’ parental benefit must be taken without interruption otherwise the parents lose their claim to any potentially remaining parental benefits. If both parents work between 25 and 30 hours part time for four consecutive months according to s4(4) BEEG they each have a claim to four months additional ‘plus’ parental benefit. These additional four months are called the ‘partner bonus’ because the intention is to encourage the parents to share childcare and work as fair partners.

Parental leave

According to s15 BEEG, every employed parent has a claim to 36 months’ parental leave for every child they have. This means that the mother and father of a child can each take 36 months’ parental leave. If they have another child they can take an additional 36 months’ parental leave for the second child (this also applies for twins). For the mother, the protection period after the birth will be taken into account in calculating the 36 months’ parental leave. Parental leave can be taken during the first three years of the child`s life or it can be divided into three parts according to s16 BEEG. This assumes that a part of at least twelve months is taken during the first three years of the child’s life. The remaining 24 months can be taken between the third and eighth years of the child’s life.

An employer cannot refuse to grant parental leave. It can only refuse to grant it in three parts if the third part is taken between the third and the eighth year of the child`s life and if there are urgent operational reasons for a refusal. The employee has to draft a written request for parental leave that explains in which periods and parts he or she wants to take parental leave. It is sufficient if the employee only explains his or her wishes for the next two years. The remaining months of parental leave can be taken with a notice period of seven or 13 weeks depending on whether the months are taken before or after the child’s third birthday. The employee may work in part time during parental leave but not more than 30 hours per week.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

There is no system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours deriving from maternity per se. Apart from the protection periods, the contract stays in force and the pregnant woman, and subsequently mother, can work according to her employment contract. However there are certain employment prohibitions for pregnant women. In this context there is a distinction between objective and individual employment prohibitions.

An individual employment prohibition according to s16 of the Maternity Protection Act (MuSchG) can be derived from a medical certificate if the doctor finds the individual pregnant women cannot fulfil her contractual obligations without endangering her health or the health of her unborn child.

An objective employment prohibition according to s 11(12) MuSchG can arise from specific tasks that endanger the health of pregnant or breastfeeding women in general, for example working with hazardous substances or working piecework. If an employee cannot be employed because of an employment prohibition, the employment contract does not rest but stays in force. According to s18 MuSchG, the employee receives a maternity protection wage (‘Mutterschutzlohn’) from the employer. The maternity protection wage amounts to the average income of the employee during the last three months before the employment prohibition.

Apart from these general employment prohibitions there are certain restrictions on employing pregnant or breastfeeding women for specific tasks. According to s4 they may not be employed for more than eight and a half hours per day or 90 hours per two weeks. In any event, they may not work overtime and must be given a rest period of at least eleven hours. Furthermore, according to s5 MuSchG a pregnant or breastfeeding woman may not be employed from 20:00 to 6:00. If the woman expressly agrees and a medical certificate states that she is capable and if she will not be working alone without a colleague the competent authority can give permission to employ the woman until 22:00.

According to s6 MuSchG, a pregnant or breastfeeding woman cannot be employed on Sundays or holidays. The competent authority may grant exceptional permission to work on Sundays and holidays if the woman expressly agrees, the general requirements of the Working time Act are met and if the woman will not work alone without a colleague. During the protection periods for the mother the employment contract remains in force but the primary obligations (working and payment) are suspended. The secondary obligations are not suspended. This means the employee is entitled to keep social benefits, such as a company car for private use, and the protection periods have to be taken into account in calculating her seniority. She also earns her full holiday entitlement and can claim it after the protection period. After the protection period, the mother must be employed according to the terms of her employment contract. During parental leave the employment contract also remains in force, but the primary obligations are suspended.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

According to s15(3) and (4) BEEG, an employee with a full-time contract can ask for part-time work during parental leave for up to 30 hours per week. In a first step according to s15(5) BEEG the employee and the employer must try to agree upon the amount of part-time work and how the working time is to be distributed. If they cannot find an agreement, the employee can claim a reduction of his or her contractual working time during parental leave according to s15(6) BEEG.

The right to parental part-time work (according to s 15(7) BEEG) only applies if the employer employs more than 15 employees on a regular basis, the employee was employed for more than six consecutive months and the part-time work totals between 15 and 30 hours per week for more than two months. The employee must also submit a written request seven weeks before the desired beginning of the part-time work in which he or she explains the desired beginning and end date as well as the amount and the distribution of the part-time work.

If there are no urgent operational reasons to the contrary the employer has to grant the part-time work request as the employee wishes it. If the employer wishes to reject the claim for part-time work he must do so within four weeks after receiving the employee’s request. If the employer does not expressly reject the request, it is regarded as granted on the terms the employee desired. In contrast to requests for parental leave, a request for parental part time can be denied if there are urgent operational reasons for the denial. After a denial the employee can file an action at a labour court. The court will then review whether the legal prerequisites for a claim to parental part-time work were met and if necessary state that the employee may work in his or her desired parental part-time capacity.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

According to German law there are several specific issues relating to maternity and parental leave. One of them is the employer’s obligation (in s27 MuSchG) to inform the competent authority about any pregnant or breastfeeding women he employs. The employer also has to carry out a risk assessment regarding working conditions for pregnant employees (s9 and 10 MuSchG). According to s15 MuSchG, a pregnant woman shall inform her employer about her pregnancy and the expected date of delivery. This is only mandatory because it ensures that the employer can comply with the protection periods or other special employment protection requirements for pregnant employees.

The most important protection is special dismissal protection for pregnant employees and for employees on paternal leave. According to s17 MuSchG, the employer may not dismiss a woman during her pregnancy until four months after the birth. Any dismissal given during this time is invalid if the employer knows about the pregnancy. If the employer already gave notice without knowing about the pregnancy, the dismissal is invalid if the employee informs him about her pregnancy within two weeks after receiving notice. The competent authority can grant an exceptional permission for dismissal of a pregnant employee if the reasons for the dismissal do not relate to the pregnancy. The employer must apply for this permission in advance of the dismissal.

An employee who is on parental leave cannot be dismissed either. According to s18 BEEG, the special protection commences at the time the employee asked for parental leave but not earlier than eight weeks before the beginning of the actual parental leave. In special cases the competent authority can grant an exceptional permission for dismissal of the employee. This special dismissal protection also applies in cases of parental part-time work during parental leave.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

According to Italian law, female employees must not work for two months before, and three months after, childbirth. Alternatively, this period can be converted into five months after childbirth, provided that the medical specialist of the National Health Service and the competent doctor responsible for prevention and health protection in the workplace attest that choosing this option will not harm the health of the pregnant woman and the unborn child.

In addition and without prejudice to the overall duration of maternity leave, female employees can postpone the beginning of maternity leave to the month preceding the expected date of birth and continue the leave until four months following the birth, always subject to the approval of both the medical specialists described above.

A female employee can request early maternity leave in certain circumstances, for example, if her duties involve lifting or moving heavy objects. In this case, a medical certificate is required, together with an authorisation from the Employment Office and the employer's consent is not needed.

During maternity leave, employees receive an allowance from the National Social Security Body (INPS) equal to 80% of their regular salary and this period is considered as actual work time. In addition to the allowance received by INPS, the National Collective Bargaining Agreements usually require the employer to make up the difference in remuneration, so that employees receive their normal remuneration.

After childbirth, in addition to the maternity rights mentioned above, female employees can take parental leave of up to six months (with an overall limit of 11 months together with the father) until the child is 12 years old. Single parents are entitled to ten months' leave. Employees receive an allowance equal to 30% of their salary during parental leave, for a maximum of six months, until the child is 6 years old. The parental leave can be enjoyed on an hourly or daily basis. For additional time there are different indemnities depending on the family income.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

If the mother does not take maternity leave (due to death, infirmity or the father having exclusive custody), the father is entitled to the entire, or residual period, of maternity leave. This right does not apply in any other circumstances.

Employees on paternity leave are entitled to the same allowance as employees on maternity leave.

Additionally, fathers have the right (independently of the mother's absence) to take five days, and possibly another one day (in agreement with the mother and in place of one day of maternity leave), of paid paternity leave within five months of the child being born.

After childbirth, in addition to the paternity right described above, male employees can take parental leave of up to six months, which can be increased to seven months if the father takes leave of not less than three months, (with an overall limit of 11 months in combination with the mother), until the child is 12 years old. Male employees receive the same parental leave allowance provided for female employees.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

An employee can request (once only) that his or her full-time contract be converted into a part-time contract in lieu of parental leave, reducing working hours by up to 50% for the duration of the parental leave.

A working mother has an additional right to two hours of rest (if her daily working time is equal to or longer than six hours), or a one-hour break (if her daily working time is less than six hours), for breast-feeding during the first year of the child’s life. These rest periods are doubled for multiple births. The rest periods are considered part of working hours and the employee is entitled to leave the premises during them.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

If the employee requests that his or her contract be converted into a part-time contract in lieu of parental leave (see the answer to question 3 above), the employer must convert the contract within 15 days of the request.

Italian Law does not provide further specific obligations on employers to accept employees’ requests for flexible working. However, National Collective Bargaining Agreements (NCBAs) may, subject to specific limits, provide for an obligation on employers to accept requests for part-time working. This is case for the Trade Sector NCBA, which includes an obligation to accept requests for part-time working to take care of a child up to the age of three, up to a maximum threshold of 3% of all company employees. If this threshold is exceeded, the company can refuse further employees’ requests.

Furthermore, employees who are mothers have the right to priority access to smart working (where work is carried out partly in the company’s premises and partly outside, without any fixed location) in the three years following the end of their maternity leave.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

After maternity or paternity leave, employees are entitled to return to the same job duties (or to equivalent duties) in which they were employed before taking leave. They have also the right, unless they expressly renounce it, to return to the same premises where they were employed at the beginning of the pregnancy or leave or to another located in the same municipality and to remain there until the child’s first birthday.

Employers cannot dismiss female employees during pregnancy and until the child is one year old, except in certain specific circumstances (i.e. gross negligence of the employee constituting just cause for termination; termination of the company’s activities; termination due to expiry of a fixed-term employment contract or negative outcome of a probationary period).

Where the employee resigns voluntarily in the one-year period described above during which dismissal is forbidden, the employee is exempted from the notice period and is entitled to receive the allowance provided for by law in the event of a dismissal.

Additionally, resignations and mutual termination agreements entered into with mothers during pregnancy or with parents of children under the age of three must always be validated and confirmed by these mothers or fathers through a special procedure before the local employment office. Failure to follow this procedure renders the resignation or mutual termination agreement ineffective.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The minimum length of pregnancy leave plus maternity leave is 16 weeks. The start date of pregnancy leave depends on the due date. The employee can take pregnancy leave from six weeks before her due date. The pregnancy leave should start no later than four weeks before the due date.

After giving birth, the employee is always entitled to at least ten weeks of maternity leave, even if the baby was born later than it was due.

Employees are not allowed to take pregnancy and maternity leave in parts; it is one continuous period.

During pregnancy and maternity leave, the employee is entitled to compensation matching her salary. The statutory entitlement is capped at the statutory maximum daily wage (EUR 214.28 gross in 2019). However, in practice, employers mostly pay the full salary during the leave.

During the pregnancy and maternity leave, the employee accrues holidays.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The partner of the employee who gave birth is entitled to one week of partner or paternity leave following the birth. This paid leave can be taken any time in the first four weeks after the birth. During this leave, partners are entitled to 100% of their salary.

As from 1 January 2020, partners will have the right to take five (working) weeks of leave. This leave needs to be taken within six months following the birth. During this period, partners will be entitled to 70% of the statutory maximum daily wage (EUR 214.28 gross in 2019).

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

There is no system in place that allows employers to suspend an employment contract or to reduce the working hours as a result of maternity.

However, parents do have several options to apply for (temporary) reduction of or change in working hours.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Yes. Parents with children aged up to eight can take unpaid parental leave. Employers should allow this leave and are only allowed to deny it for reasons relating to significant business interests, which are in practice hard to demonstrate.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

No.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Maternity leave is regulated by law in Norway.

Before birth, the mother has the right to leave of up to 12 weeks as a result of the pregnancy. Pregnancy can also serve as grounds for sick leave, aligned with the usual rules for sick leave for other illnesses.

Mothers must take first six weeks post-birth as maternity leave (unless she can produce a medical certificate stating that it would be better for her to return to work). In total, the parents have the right to take either 49 weeks with 100% benefits or 59 weeks with 80% benefits. The mother and father are entitled by law to take 15 weeks each (maternity and paternity quotas), but can decide themselves how to share the remaining weeks. The first six weeks post-birth are part of the maternity quota.

The benefits are compensated by law to the basic social security amount identified as ‘G’. As of 1 May 2019 G is NOK 99,858 (around EUR 10,200). The benefit for parental leave is six times G. In practice this means that a parent who takes 100% benefits (49 weeks) is awarded six times NOK 99,858, that is, NOK 599,158. If a parent chooses to take 80% (59 weeks), the parent will be awarded NOK 479,326 (80% of six times G).

The mother also has the right to an extra hour free time every day for nursing in the first year after birth. This extra hour has to be compensated by the employer.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The father has the right to two weeks’ leave in connection with the birth in order to be a caregiver for the mother.

The father is entitled by law to take at least 15 weeks of the total 49 weeks awarded to both parents (the paternity quota). The paternity quota was introduced in Norway in 1993, originally as four weeks. The quotas mean that both parents are entitled to take 15 weeks each in order to be awarded the compensation and to have the right to leave from their employees. The remaining weeks of parental leave (49 weeks - 30 weeks = 19 weeks) can be shared as the parents wish.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

There are two systems.

Under the first system the mother or father can choose to take their leave in parts, working part time and taking their leave part time. Part-time maternity leave has to be completed within the first three years after birth and has to be based on an agreement between the employer and employee.

Under the second system, the mother or father can take their leave as previously outlined (100% for 49 weeks or 80 % for 59 weeks). After this, having small children can be the basis for demanding reduced working hours for an agreed period of time. After this agreed period of time ends, the employee will still be entitled to go back to his or her full-time position.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Yes, as outlined in question 3 there are two possibilities where the employer is required to be flexible to allow part-time or flexible working hours. The exception is where this part-time work or flexible hours will be a material disadvantage to the employer. Such disadvantages could include the fact that the position in its nature is difficult to share or split up, that the position requires that the employee works full shifts or that it is difficult to find a substitute for the remaining part-time role.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

The quotas set out for both parents have proved very successful in advancing gender equality as nine out of ten men take their paternity leave quota, changing the social and cultural norms regarding maternity and paternity leave. Note that the length of the quotas are under ongoing political debate and were last changed in 2018 from 12 to 15 weeks.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

In general, a female employee is entitled to the following periods of maternity leave:

  • 20 weeks for single births;
  • 31 weeks for twin births;
  • 33 weeks for triple births;
  • 35 weeks for quadruple births;
  • 37 weeks for quintuple or more multiple births.

A maximum six weeks of maternity leave can be used before the expected date of birth. A female employee who has taken at least 14 weeks of maternity leave after the birth has the right to return to work if:

  • the remaining part of maternity leave is taken by an employee who is the father bringing up the child; or
  • during the period corresponding to the remaining part of maternity leave, personal care of the child is provided by an insured person who is the father of the child and who has suspended money-making activity to care for the child.

There are also special rules regulating the rights to the maternity leave in specific situations, for example when a newborn child requires hospital care, when a mother gives up a child for adoption or if the child dies in the first eight weeks of life.

The maternity allowance (100% or 80% of remuneration depending on the length of maternity and parental leave; for more information on parental leave please see the answer to question 5 below) is financed from Social Insurance Institution funds and paid by the Social Insurance Institution (if the employer employs 20 or fewer employees) or by employers (where there are more than 20 employees).

After maternity leave ends, the employer should allow the employee to work in the same position and if this is not possible, in a position that corresponds to the one they held before the start of the maternity leave or a position corresponding to the employee’s qualifications and with the remuneration the employee would have received if they had not been on the leave.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

An employee who is a father bringing up a child has the right to paternity leave for up to two weeks, however, only until:

  • the child reaches the age of 24 months;
  • 24 months have elapsed from the day of the ruling adjudicating the child's adoption becoming valid and no longer than until the child reaches the age of seven or, in the case of a child for whom a decision has been made to postpone school attendance, until the child reaches the age of ten.

Paternity leave is financed 100% from the Social Insurance Institution funds. It can be taken once or in two parts at the most, neither shorter than a week. Paternity leave is granted upon the written request of an employee, filed no later than seven days prior to the commencement of the leave.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

Pregnant employees cannot be employed to work overtime or at night. Pregnant employees cannot be required, without their consent, to work outside their permanent workplace, and to provide work under the interrupted working time system. The same rules apply to employees bringing up a child of up to the age of four; these employees can, however, give their consent to perform work without the above-mentioned rules applying.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women child cannot be employed to perform work that is especially strenuous or harmful to health.

An employee who is nursing a child is entitled to a full-time feeding break, included in the working time. If she is feeding one child, she is entitled to two half-hour breaks; if she is feeding more than one child she can take two breaks of 45 minutes each.

Employees who are bringing up at least one child of up to 14 years have the right to two days leave from work during any calendar year, while retaining the right to pay.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

During their maternity and paternity leave, employees are not allowed to work. It is possible to work part time during parental leave; the employer must accept an employee’s request to working part time unless it is impossible due to the organisation of work or the type of work the employee performs. After termination of maternity, parental, or paternity leave, the employer should allow the employee to work in the same position and if this is not possible, in a position corresponding to the one occupied before the start of the leave or in a position corresponding to the employee’s qualifications of the employee and with the level of remuneration, generally, the employee would have received if they had not been on leave.

An employee who has been employed for at least six months has the right to childcare leave to provide personal care to their child. Childcare leave is, as a rule, limited to 36 months. This leave is granted for a period no longer than until the end of the calendar year in which the child turns six. Childcare leave is unpaid. Both parents can take childcare leave simultaneously. If they do, the total length of leave may not be longer than set out above. During childcare leave an employee has the right to take up paid employment with the existing or other employer or to undertake another activity, including learning or training, if that does not exclude the possibility of providing personal care for the child.

An employee entitled to childcare leave can submit a written request to reduce their working time to no less than half of their full working time (e.g. three quarters or seven eights of full time). The employer cannot reject such a request.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Having taken maternity leave, an employee is entitled to the following periods of parental leave:

  • up to 32 weeks if the mother gave birth to one child in one birth; or
  • up to 34 weeks if the mother gave birth to more than one child in one birth.

Parental leave is also financed from Social Insurance Institution funds: for the duration of parental leave the employee shall receive 60% or 80% of the remuneration which she or he would receive if they worked during that time. Both parents of a child can take parental leave simultaneously. In this event, the total length of parental leave may not be longer than that described above.

Parents can receive a one-off child support grant from the state. It depends on the income per person in the family and whether the mother was under medical care for the period which must have started by the tenth week of pregnancy.

The ‘Family 500+’ programme provides regular support for parents bringing up children. Each family receives PLN 500 per month for the second and each subsequent child until that child becomes an adult. Families on low incomes also receive support for their first and only child if they meet the income criteria: it is planned that as of 1 July 2019 families will also receive PLN 500 per month for the first child.

Parents bringing up children can take advantage of tax breaks. The tax relief depends on the number of children in the family.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Employees can choose to take an initial parental leave of 120 consecutive days, for which they will receive 100% of their reference remuneration, or of up to 150 consecutive days, for which they will receive 80% of their reference remuneration. Reference remuneration is assessed according to the formula: ‘R/180’, where R is the total of remuneration received in the six months immediately before two months prior to the employee’s absence (holiday and Christmas allowances are not taken into account).

30 days’ leave can be accrued if each one of the parents, personally and exclusively, uses a period of 30 consecutive days, or two periods of 15 consecutive days, after the mother’s mandatory leave (corresponding to six weeks after birth, and a maximum of 30 days before birth).

For multiple births, the above-mentioned leave is accrued of 30 days for each child other than the first.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Fathers are entitled to mandatory paternity leave of 15 consecutive or non-sequential business days, to be used in the 30-day period following birth, five of which must be taken immediately after the birth date.

After this period, the father is entitled to an optional additional ten business days’ leave, consecutive or non-sequential, which must be used simultaneously with the mother's initial maternity leave.

For multiple births, an additional two days is added to the leave described above for each child other than the first.

The father will receive 100% of his reference remuneration for leave days.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

During parental leave the employment contract is suspended, and no salary is due to the employee.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Yes.

While the child is being breastfed, the mother is entitled to paid absence from work for two periods per day of a maximum duration of one hour each, in order to breastfeed.

If the child is being bottle-fed, and until the baby is one year old, parents are entitled to the same amount of paid absence to bottle-feed.

For multiple births, the paid absence will be increased by an additional 30-minute period for each child other than the first.

Employees with children under the age of 12 years old (or children who are disabled or suffer from a chronic illness) are entitled to work part time or under a flexible working hours regime.

Employees with children under 12 months old (or mothers who are breastfeeding) are not required to work overtime.

Additionally, mothers are not required to work at night during the 112-day period before and after birth and while they are breastfeeding.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Parental pay is fully paid by Portuguese Social Security.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

A female employee has a right to full leave related to her child’s birth for a continuous period of seven weeks prior to and seven weeks after the birth. During this period, the employee may choose to start using the 480 days of parental benefit (paid through the social security system) or take unpaid leave.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

The father or other parent has a right to ten days of paternity leave in connection with the child’s birth. These days must be taken within 60 days of the child’s birth and are paid through the social security system as a temporary parental benefit.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

There is no system of contract suspension. The employee will remain employed as usual.

Both parents have the right to a reduction in the normal working hours until the child turns eight. Any parent who makes use of the right to this leave is paid or compensated through the social security system.

The different types of reduction of working hours are set out below.

  • A reduction in normal working hours of minimum 12.5% and maximum 75% (i.e. one eighth, one quarter, half, three quarters or half a day) on the condition that parental benefit is paid through the social security system during the leave (i.e. the parent must have days remaining from the 480 days’ parental benefit).
  • A reduction in normal working hours up to a maximum of 25% without an entitlement to parental benefit through the social security system until the child has reached age eight (i.e. the parent can choose to work 75% to 100% during this period).

It is quite common for parents to take advantage of this option, at least during the child’s early years.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Employers are required to be flexible to a reasonable extent. But in terms of working hours, it is the employee's choice to use his or her entitlement to reduction of working hours. To change the employment agreement, for example from full-time to part-time employment requires consent from both parties.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Parents are entitled to parental benefits paid through the social security system for 480 days. The parental benefit paid varies, but the maximum parental benefit corresponds to 80% of the employee’s salary up to a certain cap (i.e. an annual salary of SEK 455,000 for 2019). The maximum parental benefit per day for 2019 is SEK 989.

There is no requirement for employers to offer employees payment during parental leave. However, many collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) provide for pay to supplement the parental benefit received through the social security system, normally an additional 10% of the employee’s salary. Employers not bound by CBAs can offer supplementary pay at their own discretion, which is quite common.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

A mother has a right (not a duty) to full leave for 14 weeks following childbirth. According to the Swiss Federal Act on Employment in Trade and Industry, women are not allowed to work during the eight weeks following childbirth. From then on up to the 16th week after childbirth or while the mother is breastfeeding, the women’s consent is required to work.

Maternity compensation (a daily allowance) is paid for 98 days following childbirth, provided certain conditions are met (e.g. the mother was working, unable to work or unemployed prior to giving birth). The payments are financed by mandatory contributions by employers and employees to the social security institutions through deduction of a percentage of salary. The maternity allowance amounts to 80% of the average salary earned during the twelve months before the child’s birth and is capped at CHF 196 per day. The entitlement to maternity compensation is forfeited in the event of the mother’s death or if during the 14 weeks she resumes work fully or in part.

Some employers offer additional voluntary payments, such as continued payment of 80% or 100% of the employee’s (full) salary during 14 weeks or an extended period.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

There are no specific provisions in Swiss statutory law about paternity leave. However, the employer must allow the father to attend the birth of his own child.

Some employers grant paternity leave, which is usually quite brief (between one and ten days), others grant unpaid paternity leave for a few days or allow employees to take (paid) vacation.

Usually, paternity leave is regulated in the employer’s employment regulations, or in any applicable collective bargaining agreement.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

For the duration of the employee’s pregnancy and the 16 weeks following childbirth the employee is protected against termination by the employer, as notice given during that period would be null and void. If notice has been given prior to the beginning of a prohibited period and the notice period is still running, that notice period is suspended for the duration of the prohibited period and continues thereafter. Should the notice period then not end on the last day of a month, the employment relationship is normally extended to the end of the relevant calendar month.

According to the Swiss Federal Act on Employment in Trade and Industry and its implementing ordinances, women are entitled to special protection during pregnancy and following childbirth. Mothers must also be given the appropriate (paid) time off for breastfeeding. Further, there are provisions on the maximum limit of working hours for nursing mothers.

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Currently, there are political discussions in Switzerland regarding the introduction of paternity leave. The political proposals vary from two weeks paternity leave to 18 weeks parental leave. The timing and outcome of this political discussion is unpredictable.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave in the UK. If they meet certain criteria (including a six-month service requirement), employees are entitled to payment for 39 weeks at the rate of 90% of normal earnings for the first six weeks and a standard statutory rate (currently GBP 148) for the remaining 33 weeks. Employees are also entitled to their full contractual benefit package during maternity leave.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Employees who meet certain criteria (including a six-month service requirement) can take up to two week's paternity leave paid at a standard statutory rate (currently GBP 148).

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

In the UK, the employee's contract is not suspended during maternity leave. All of her terms of employment remain in force, except for terms relating to wages or salary and any obligations on the employee which are inconsistent with her right to take maternity leave (for example, the obligation to work).

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

All employees (not just new parents) have a statutory right to request flexible working after six months' service. Employers can refuse the request if they have business-related grounds. However, according to case law, it may be indirect sex discrimination to refuse flexible working to a woman whose childcare commitments make it difficult for her to work without that flexibility. In practice, this means employers can be required to objectively justify any refusal to allow a mother to work flexibly.

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Yes, the UK is unusual in having a scheme which allows mothers to give up some of their maternity leave in exchange for a more flexible type of leave called shared parental leave. This type of leave can be taken by the mother or her partner or it can be shared between them. There are certain restrictions on how it is taken, for example it must be taken in blocks of one week (so cannot be used to facilitate part-time working) and must be taken before the child's first birthday. If the mother does not use up all 39 weeks of her maternity pay then the unused weeks can be paid as shared parental pay at a standard rate (currently GBP 148). This scheme operates in addition to the EU-wide entitlement to unpaid parental leave.

1. How is maternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

There is no federal law requiring private (non-governmental employers) to provide paid maternity leave. However, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who meet the statute's requirements and work for an employer covered by the laws.

To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must be employed for a total of at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the preceding 12-month period with an employer who employs 50 or more employees at a worksite. The leave may be used:

  • for the birth of a child or placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care;
  • to care for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; and
  • for certain military exigencies.

Leave for childbirth and/or placement includes time for bonding with the newborn or newly placed child. A mother can use 12 weeks of FMLA leave for the birth of a child, for prenatal care and incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for his spouse who is incapacitated (due to pregnancy or child birth). The leave may be unpaid, but employers may require employees to exhaust all paid leave as part of the twelve weeks of FMLA leave.

Upon return from FMLA leave, an employee must be restored to his or her original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. An employee’s use of FMLA leave cannot be counted against the employee under a ‘no-fault’ attendance policy. Employers are also required to continue group health insurance coverage for an employee on FMLA leave under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

An employee's entitlement to FMLA leave for birth and bonding expires 12 months after the date of birth. Birth and bonding leave must be taken as a continuous block of leave unless the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave (e.g. allowing a parent to return to work on a part-time schedule for ten weeks). FMLA leave may be taken before the actual placement or adoption of a child if an absence from work is required for the placement for adoption or foster care to proceed. FMLA leave to bond with a child after placement must be taken as a continuous block of leave unless the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave. An employee’s entitlement to FMLA leave for the placement of a child for adoption or foster care expires 12 months after the placement.

It is unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise any right provided by the FMLA. It is also unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice, or because of involvement in any proceeding, related to the FMLA. Most state laws are similar to the FMLA, but may have different coverage standards. A few states require certain employers to provide paid leave to covered employees for employee health related issues, including maternity and paternity leave.

Outside of the context of the FMLA, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) addresses discrimination protections, but does not require employers to provide maternity leave. The PDA amended Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (the primary federal law prohibiting discrimination) to expand the definition of sex discrimination to include discrimination against women ‘on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions … .’ The PDA ensures that:

‘women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions [would] be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work … .’

While the PDA does not mandate paid maternity leave by employers, it does require that if an employer provides paid leave for other medical conditions, it also must ‘provide it for pregnancy.’ Under federal non-discrimination law, an employer's policy for leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions can be limited to women affected by those conditions. However, parental leave (leave for bonding with a child or providing childcare) must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms. Although pregnancy itself is not a disability, pregnant workers may have impairments related to their pregnancies that qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer may not discriminate against an individual whose pregnancy-related impairment is a disability under the ADA and must provide an individual with a reasonable accommodation if needed because of a pregnancy-related disability, unless the accommodation would result in significant difficulty or expense (‘undue hardship’). A reasonable accommodation could include a modified work schedule, telework, leave in addition to that provided by the employer's sick leave policy, or a temporary reassignment to light duty work.

2. How is paternity leave regulated? Please describe the length of it, any incentives, payments, etc.

Under the FMLA, both mothers and fathers have the same right to take FMLA leave for the birth of a child and bonding with the newborn child, the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care and bonding with the newly-placed child. A mother can use 12 weeks of FMLA leave for the birth of a child, for prenatal care and incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for his spouse who is incapacitated (due to pregnancy or child birth).

Eligible spouses who work for the same employer are limited to a combined total of 12 work-weeks of leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a son or daughter and bonding with the newborn child, the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care and bonding with the newly-placed child. Under federal non-discrimination law, an employer's policy for leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions can be limited to women affected by those conditions. However, parental leave (leave for bonding with a child or providing childcare) must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms.

3. Is there a system of contract suspension or reduction of working hours that derives from maternity? Please describe.

There is no system of contract suspension for private (non-governmental) employers. Under the FMLA, birth and bonding leave and leave to bond with a child after placement for adoption or foster care generally must be taken as a continuous block of leave unless the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave (e.g. allowing a parent to return to work on a part-time schedule for ten weeks).

4. Are employers required to be flexible in terms of allowing part-time or flexible working following on from maternity or paternity?

Under the FMLA, birth and bonding leave and leave to bond with a child after placement for adoption or foster care generally must be taken as a continuous block of leave unless the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave (e.g., allowing a parent to return to work on a part-time schedule for ten weeks). Under federal non-discrimination laws, an employer must treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work with respect to light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave. Employees disabled by pregnancy or childbirth may be entitled to part time or a flexible working arrangement as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

5. Are there any specific issues you wish to highlight in terms of the law on maternity leave or pay?

Employers must consider the requirements of state laws, which may impose greater or different obligations on employers than federal law. State laws are more frequently amended than federal law, and a few states now require some form of paid sick leave, which could be used for pregnancy-related conditions.