How paid maternity leave differs around the world

Flexible working hours, extended maternity leave, breastfeeding rooms, free education and free healthcare are just a few of the ways that some countries build the best working environments for mothers. Laws in some European countries allow women to take dozens of weeks of paid leave – however, the United States doesn’t guarantee them any.

The US doesn’t have a law that specifically covers parental leave. There is another law, called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), that may be used toward parental leave, though it does not apply to everyone. It provides up to 12 weeks and requires the employer to maintain employees’ health benefits, but it’s unpaid and comes with restrictions on who is eligible. It is, however, applicable to both men and women.

States have cobbled together their own policies, meanwhile, and some states may offer better benefits than what’s available under the FMLA. Parental leave is also largely dependent on the policies decided by Americans’ employers – many companies offer none.

Employers in the UK, however, are required to offer one year of leave to new mothers. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer, how much you’re paid or how many hours a week you work.

Maternity leave in the UK is made up of two parts. Ordinary maternity Leave – this is the first six months (or 26 weeks). If you return to work during this period, you have the right to return to exactly the same job that you had before you took maternity leave. Additional maternity leave is the second six months and this affects what rights you have when you go back to work. If you take more than six months’ leave, you have the right to return to the same job unless it is no longer available. In this case, you must be given a similar job with the same pay and conditions.

Research shows that paid maternity leave is good for individuals, businesses, and the economy. A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that it keeps women in the workforce and lowers their need for public assistance. However, maternity leave is something that differs widely depending on where you live.

We’ve taken a closer look at what maternity leave looks like around the world here.