The Great Divide: Workplace Benefits in the UK and US

David Hehenberger's avatar David Hehenberger July 24, 2023

We recently conducted research to compare the annual leave benefits offered to workers in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US). While the two countries share many similarities on the surface, the results of our study were quite revealing, highlighting stark differences in the legal entitlements of employees in these two advanced economies.

Our research found that British workers are legally entitled to a minimum of 28 paid annual leave days a year, equating to 5.6 weeks¹. This is in stark contrast to the US, where there are no federal or state statutory minimum paid leave requirements. Despite the lack of legal mandates, the average US worker takes between 10 to 14 paid days off a year, with this number increasing to 15 to 19 days for employees who have been with the same company for over five years².

In addition to annual leave, we also looked at other benefits such as sick leave, maternity leave, and public holidays. Both the UK and US have a total of 10 public/federal holiday days in a typical 12-month period. However, these holidays do not legally have to be paid in either country. In the UK, businesses often deduct these from the annual leave days that employees are allocated.

When it comes to sick leave, the UK has a legal requirement for employers to pay ‘Statutory Sick Pay’, which guarantees employees a minimum of £109.40 (approximately $141) per week, for up to 28 weeks, if they are too sick to work. In contrast, US federal law does not require sick leave to be paid, although national statistics show that 79% of US civilian workers had paid sick leave available to them in 2021³.

Maternity and family leave also show significant differences between the two countries. In the UK, ‘Statutory Maternity Leave’ is for 52 weeks, and employers are also required to provide paid ‘Statutory Paternity Leave’ and ‘Statutory Adoption Leave’. In the US, the ‘Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)’ requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow mothers and fathers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for pregnancy or child-rearing. As of 2023, 40% of US businesses offer paid maternity leave⁴.

Bereavement, or compassionate leave, including attending a funeral, is not legally required to be paid in either country. However, the UK government does require businesses to provide ‘Parental Bereavement Leave’ of up to two weeks for employees who lose a child, with potential payment during this period if certain conditions are met⁵.

Our founder, David Hehenberger, commented on the findings: “These comparisons provide a fascinating look at the significant difference in leave entitlements on either side of the Atlantic. They highlight the varying approaches to employee benefits and could lead to a broader discussion about work culture and employee welfare in these two advanced economies.”

He added, “It’s clear from our findings that UK employees are entitled to many more legal benefits than their US counterparts. However, it’s great to see that despite no federal laws in place, the majority of US businesses still give employees the paid leave they may require to have a healthy work-life balance. We know that this is not only crucial for workers, but for a business in order to attract and retain staff, ensure quality of work, and remain competitive.”






David Hehenberger's avatar

David Hehenberger

David is the CEO and founder of Flamingo. He is a serial entrepreneur, and has built and exited multiple successful SaaS companies, and started Flamingo in 2021 to make it easier to track and manage leave in his own companies.

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