Maternity Leave Laws Around the World

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck June 3, 2024

In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at the maternity leave laws in several major countries around the world, as well as which countries have the highest and lowest mandatory maternity leave periods.

These figures refer to the minimum period of maternity leave businesses need to provide by law in these locations. Companies can (and many do) offer more than what they are required to, and a little later on we’ll explain why it’s a good idea to provide a generous maternity leave period, as well as some other FAQs regarding maternity leave (or parental leave for birthing parents).

Related: Check out all you need to know about Paternity Leave (and Parental Leave for non-birthing parents) in this guide.

What is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is the period when a mother takes time off from work before, during and/or after her child is born.

Maternity leave typically starts a number of months or weeks prior to birth, once the person is no longer able to work normally. Though in some cases, depending on the nature of their job, the person may work up until their due date, and start their maternity leave period from the date of their child’s birth.

Maternity leave may also be taken by adoptive parents or foster parents (usually one parent being designated for “maternity” leave, which means they will take the larger share of parental leave), in which case the leave period generally starts from the time the child comes into their care.

Highest Maternity Leave Days Around the World

The list of top countries for maternity leave is dominated by European nations. 

Lowest Maternity Leave Days Around the World

Here are some of the nations with the lowest mandatory maternity leave period in the world.

Maternity Laws in the US, UK, and the EU

Let’s take a closer look at some of the maternity leave laws in some major countries around the world.

US (Federal)

You may have to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave if your company falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

This is a Federal Govt. law, which means it applies to companies in every state across the country. 

For your employee to be eligible for maternity leave under FMLA, the following have to be true. 

Besides FMLA, there might be state-level regulations where your business is located, or any states where you have qualifying employees. 

For more details, be sure to get in touch with your state’s labor department to learn more about maternity leave laws.


Employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. 26 weeks are regular maternity leave, and the other 26 weeks are classified as additional maternity leave. 

The earliest an employee can start maternity leave is 11 weeks before the week of expected childbirth. 

During leave, the employee is compensated through Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), but as an employer, you can get reimbursed for up to 92% of the SMP. 

For more details like the eligibility of employees, and how SMP reimbursements work, refer to the NHS Maternity Leave Benefits webpage. 


German maternity leave is regulated by The Maternity Protection Act (MPA). It entitles a mother to 6 weeks of leave before birth and 8 weeks after.

In case of premature or multiple births, one gets 12 weeks of maternity leave.


It is mandatory for women to take at least 8 weeks of maternity leave in France. An employee is entitled to 16 weeks total, usually 6 weeks before birth, and 10 weeks after. 

The WHO’s Maternity Leave Recommendations

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following for maternity leaves. 

These recommendations are obviously not legal requirements like the ones we mentioned above, but just to give you an idea of what the WHO thinks is ideal.

Is Maternity Leave Paid or Unpaid?

Whether maternity leave is paid or unpaid depends on the location and the individual company’s policy.

Some countries’ maternity leave laws provide paid maternity leave, while others allow new mothers to take time off work without losing their job, seniority or benefits, but they are not paid during this period.

On top of the legal requirement, some companies may go above and beyond to provide paid maternity leave.

In the United States, most maternity leave is unpaid, even for employees working in businesses that qualify for FMLA. 

A handful of states (California, Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) provide support to women who are on parental leave, and only around 35% of private companies in the U.S. offered some paid maternity leave. 

Who Pays for Maternity Leave?

If maternity is paid, who pays for it?

This, again, depends on the location.

In some places (particularly common in the EU), maternity leave is paid for by the government/social insurance.

The company lets the employee take time off from work for their maternity, and the employee then applies to the government for a maternity benefit during this time (sometimes covering all of their usual pay, but more often covering approximately 65-75% of what they would usually earn).

In other places, companies are required to pay for their employees’ maternity leave themselves (they may also choose to do this regardless).

Further Reading: All the benefits of Flexible Time Off Policies, and whether they’re right for your business.

Why You Should Offer Paid Maternity Leave

If you’re running a startup or a small-to-medium-sized business, lengthy maternity leaves can no doubt cause some complications for your operations.

But an increasing number of employers are recognizing the benefits of providing maternity leave (particularly paid leave), both for the employees and the company. 

And with the help of some tools and a little bit of planning, you can manage maternity leave in such a way that it doesn’t affect your workflow too much (more on that below). 

Here are a few reasons why you should consider paid maternity leave for your team, even if you’re not required to do so by law.  

Reduce Turnover Cost

If you provide no maternity leave, you might be asking your team member to choose between her job and her new child. In most cases, 

According to Employee Benefits News, replacing an employee can cost up to 33% of their annual salary. It could be significantly cheaper to provide paid maternity leave than to hire a new team member, train them, etc., all from scratch.

Employee Morale and Loyalty

Speaking of reducing turnover, it is far more likely that your employee will come back to work and stay with your company if you provide them with adequate maternity leave. 

It demonstrates that you truly care about their wellness and it will create a stronger bond between you and your team.

Attract the Best Performers

Flexible work hours and an optimal work/life balance are becoming more and more important for today’s workforce, and the top employers are taking notice. 

By providing paid maternity leave, you will be able to compete with other top businesses in your space when it comes to attracting the best employees. 

Succession Planning

If a senior member of your team is away on maternity leave, you can take this opportunity to find her future successors. 

When others have to share key tasks and responsibilities, it will also help increase productivity and efficiency for the entire team when your employee eventually returns from parental leave.

How to Track and Manage Maternity Leave

If an employee is going to be away on maternity leave for weeks or months, it can cause significant disruptions to your workflow. 

Here are a few things you can do to make the transition as seamless as possible. 

Require ample notice. You can ask that maternity leave requests are submitted ahead of time, allowing you to make plans for when the employee is absent. 

But keep in mind that things can come up unexpectedly during pregnancy, a long notice might not always be possible, and make room for exceptions. 

Plan ahead. Have your HR team/person evaluate what tasks each person is responsible for, and then identify 1-2 others on the team who might be able to fill in when needed. 

Maintain contractor relationships. Maintain relationships with agencies or contractors who can fill in for employees on maternity leave on a temporary basis.

Use a leave tracking software. The timing of when an employee requests maternity leave is mostly out of your control. But during a lengthy absence, it becomes even more critical to manage the rest of the team’s leave schedule to make sure you don’t end up short-staffed. 

A leave tracking app like Flamingo will help you keep a clear picture of when the employee’s maternity leave is due to start, when they’re due back, and how long you need cover for them on your schedule.

It makes life easier for everyone involved, and ensures a smooth transition period during an important time in the new parent’s life.

Try Flamingo for free and get set up in five minutes.

Learn More

Does Parental Leave Only Apply to Mothers?

It’s becoming more and more common today that parental leave extends past simply mothers, or birthing parents.

Non-birthing parents are entitled to leave in most parts of the world for the birth of their child as well.

This can range from one or two weeks of unpaid leave on the low end, to as much as much as six months of fully paid leave (as Spotify notably offers their employees).

In the US, the FMLA benefits for the birth of a new child apply to both birthing and non-birthing parents the same, meaning both can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, regardless of whether the parent physically gave birth.

The standard parental leave for non-birthing parents is catching up to that of maternity leave in many areas of the world.

And just like maternity leave, an increasing number of private businesses are also choosing to include paternity leave in their policies to promote employee wellness and to reduce turnover, and hold on to their best employees.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

Leave management software for modern teams

Flamingo makes managing your team’s paid time off a breeze.

Learn more

You may be interested
in these articles