Defining policies

This report is about leave entitlements, mainly for workers with dependent children. As the review shows, working parents today in more affluent countries are often entitled to a range of different types of leave, the most common being:

a. Maternity leave

Leave generally available to mothers only (except in a few cases where part of the leave can be transferred to other carers under certain circumstances). It is usually understood to be a health and welfare measure, intended to protect the health of the mother and newborn child, to be taken just before, during and immediately after childbirth.

b. Paternity leave

Leave generally available to fathers only, usually to be taken soon after the birth of a child, and intended to enable the father to spend time with his partner, new child and older children.

c. Parental leave

Leave available equally to mothers and fathers, either as: (i) a non-transferable individual right (i.e. both parents have an entitlement to an equal amount of leave); or (ii) an individual right that can be transferred to the other parent; or (iii) a family right that parents can divide between themselves as they choose. In some countries, Parental leave consists only of non-transferable individual entitlements; in other countries, it is an entirely family right; while in other countries, part of Parental leave is an individual right, the remainder a family right. It is generally understood to be a care measure, intended to give both parents an equal opportunity to spend time caring for a young child; it usually can only be taken after the end of Maternity leave. In some cases, parents can choose to take all or part of their Parental leave on a part-time basis.

In some countries, Parental leave may be available to both partners in same-sex partnerships.

In some countries, Parental leave is supplemented by a further period of leave intended also as a care measure, and given various names, such as ‘childcare leave’ or ‘home care leave’. This leave is for parents following the end of Parental leave, and may not in practice be very different to Parental leave (although the conditions attached to the two types of leave may vary, see for example Finland or Norway).

d. Leave to care for children who are ill

This entitlement varies considerably between countries in terms of length, age of children included and payment. In some cases it may be extended to include certain adult relatives.

Although the rest of this introduction and the individual country notes differentiate between Maternity, Paternity and Parental leave, the distinction between these types of leave is beginning to blur in some countries, leading to the emergence of a single, generic Parental leave entitlement. For example, Iceland, Norway and Sweden already have a single period of post-natal leave that does not distinguish between the three different kinds of leave; however, one part of this generic post-natal leave can only be taken by mothers and another part only by fathers.

In other countries (e.g. New Zealand, Portugal), although different types of leave with distinct conditions are discernible, all leave comes under a common umbrella term of ‘Parental leave’.

A further variant that is blurring distinctions is the possibility that part of Maternity leave can be transferred to the father, making it seem like a variant of Parental leave (for example, currently in Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal Spain, and the UK); in fact, this should be treated as transferable Maternity leave, since the father’s use of leave derives from the mother’s entitlement and her agreement to transfer part of that entitlement.