Maternity Leave Laws Around the World

Andrew Buck October 6, 2021

In this guide, we will cover all you need to know about maternity leave laws

As an employer, it is vital that you’re aware of maternity leave laws in your country (or state) so you can plan for the time when an employee needs time off to care for her newborn baby. 

As an employee who might need to request maternity leave in the future, you should also know how many days you’re entitled to by law. 

We’ll discuss what is covered by maternity leave, how the laws differ in various parts of the world, why businesses should consider offering paid maternity leave to their employees, and more.

Further Reading: The different types of leave your business should offer to your employees.

What is Maternity Leave?

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

The leave period can start before the birth if the mother requests time off, or it can start after birth to allow her to recover from pregnancy and care for her newborn. 

Maternity leave can also apply if an employee is adopting a child, for the time required to complete all the necessary formalities and to care for their new child. 

One of the key features of maternity leave is that the employee is guaranteed that her position will be available when she returns from her leave. 

This is to prevent women from rushing back to work too early after childbirth because of the fear of losing their positions.

While many companies around the world today offer at least some type of parental leave, there are some countries where there is a higher number of maternity leave days required by law. 

Let’s explore where in the world women are entitled to the most maternity leave, and also the countries where it’s the least.

Highest Maternity Leave Days Around the World

When it comes to the most generous maternity leave days, the list of top countries is dominated by European nations. 

Lithuania – New mothers get 18 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, and together, parents can share up to 156 weeks of parental leave. 

Estonia – 140 days of full-pay maternity leave.

Hungary – 72 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Noway – 49-59 weeks of full or partially paid maternity leave.

Serbia – 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. An additional year of paid leave after, but the compensation foes down over time. 

Iceland – 5-6 months of maternity leave.

Lowest Maternity Leave Days Around the World

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

Mozambique – 9 weeks

Sudan – 8 weeks

Malawi – 8 weeks

Tunisia – 4 weeks

Papua New Guinea – 0 weeks

USA – 0 weeks (federal) 

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, be sure to 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. 

Maternity Leave Recommendations (WHO)

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?

If your business is located in a country where there is a requirement for paid maternity leave by law, then your leave policy needs to cover the minimum number of paid leave days to stay compliant. 

Any additional paid maternity leave on top of the minimum requirements would depend on your overall leave policy after you factor in things like employee morale, turnover costs, attracting and retaining top talent, etc. 

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?

It depends on where your business is located and if there are maternity leave laws in your state or country. 

The good news is that in many of the jurisdictions where paid maternity leave is mandatory, the government provides (or reimburses) the compensation that is paid during maternity leave.

For example, as we mentioned above, employers in the UK can be reimbursed for up to 92% of the maternity leave pay.

In other cases, like in the United States, there is only unpaid maternity leave at the federal level (FMLA), and if you want to provide paid leave, it would be up to your company’s time off policy.

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 Your Employee’s 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 tracker app can help you maintain a balanced workload for your team even when you’re missing an employee for an extended period.

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Does Parental Leave Only Apply to Mothers?

Although it is women who physically give birth to their children, it is not just them who are responsible for the caring and wellbeing of the newborn. 

The father of the child (or the spouse/partner of the mother) also plays a vital role in not only caring for the newborn, but also helping the mother recover well after pregnancy. 

For this reason, men are also eligible for family leave, and it is typically referred to as paternity leave. 

In the United States, paternity leave is covered under FMLA under federal law, and some states also mandate parental leave for fathers. 

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.

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