Global Parental Leave Laws: US Is Behind the Curve

Maternity leave


Paid parental leave has been a hot topic in the US since, unlike other developed nations around the globe, it does not have a uniform paid parental leave law. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives some unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, but even that only applies in certain circumstances (large employers).

In a recent XpertHR webinar, FordHarrison employment law attorney Scott Wagner spoke of the patchwork of requirements in the US, which pale in comparison to parental leave rights in other countries. He also discussed how an employer operating in multiple countries should reconcile these differences with its global workforce.

United States

Despite the fact that there is no federal paid parental leave law, some states, including Vermont, Connecticut and California, have  enacted laws giving employees greater rights than those under the FMLA.

In addition, Wagner notes that some US companies in certain industries are offering more generous leave than what is required in order to bolster their competitiveness. For instance, in the technology sector, Netflix now offers up to a year of paid parental leave to new mothers and fathers.

On the other hand, the manufacturing industry is providing the bare minimum. Just recently a bill was proposed to provide federal workers with a certain amount of paid leave.  However, the Family Act, which would supplement the FMLA for private employers and provide employees with a portion of their pay, has been in a proposed draft form for over a year now without much traction.

UK, Italy, Brazil and China

In contrast to the US, Wagner spoke of four countries with more generous parental leave than in the US.

In the UK, two weeks of maternity leave is required and mothers are entitled to a total of 52 weeks of maternity leave with 39 of those weeks paid. In addition, the UK now also give couples the flexibility to share the maternity leave and maternity pay.

Italian employers are required to offer maternity leave two months prior and three months after birth. The employee receives 80% of her pay while on leave. If the mother does not take her full maternity leave, the father can take a portion of the leave following the birth or adoption of the child. Parents are also entitled to take an additional six months of parental leave and receive 30% of their salary.

Parental leave in Brazil is largely influenced by an employee’s collective bargaining agreement. However, employees are entitled to 120 days of maternity leave paid in part by the employer and Social Security. In addition, working fathers are entitled to five days of paternity leave. Based on recent court rulings, Brazil employers might be required to offer 120 days to the father instead. However, it is unclear whether this only applies in the situation where the mother does not take the 120 days’ leave.

In China, an employee is entitled to 98 days of maternity leave and may be entitled to longer leave if she is 25 or older. Payment depends on whether the employer has paid insurance premiums equivalent to Social Security. Local laws in China provide for greater leave rights.  China also provides for caregiver leave at company discretion.

Best Practices

Wagner stressed that when a multinational company creates a parental leave policy it must:

  • Understand local laws and legislative developments;
  • Be aware of any industry-specific trends; and
  • Obtain the advice of local counsel.

If an employer adopts one global leave policy, it will need to default to the country’s laws with the most generous leave laws and provide that to employees in all countries in which it operates. That’s why Wagner suggested global businesses may instead want to consider creating regional parental leave policies to simplify administration and reduce costs.

How a cross border transfer is structured in an employment contract and letter of assignment will determine which country’s employment laws apply to an assigned employee.

For more insights on global parental leave issues, listen in to the latest XpertHR webinar.