Maternity Leave - A Comparison Among The US, Poland and Denmark

As I’m getting older, the more I see friends, family members, and acquaintances getting pregnant. This of course, raises an extraordinary number of questions, from what to name the baby to who’s going to take care of him/her while the parents are working. 

As  many of you know, I moved back to the US early 2017.  And so, whenever I see pregnant women here, I often pity them. Why? Well, our maternity leave is a joke compared to a number of European countries. 

Here’s a comparison among the US, Poland, and Denmark. 

The United States
Although the US is one of the richest countries in the world, it is the only country that doesn’t mandate employers to give women a paid maternity leave, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Of course, some employees do get a paid maternity leave, mainly depending on the company and if you’re considered a full-time employee (I’ll talk about it further).

Although women are protected from their job up to 12 weeks (3 months) after childbirth or adoption under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it does not require for new-moms to get paid for that time off. To make it simple, your employer has to wait for you to return to your job and you will not be penalized during that time period. 

In order to determine whether you are eligible for a paid maternity leave, there are a few requirements you must fulfill. You must be in your job for a year. You must work full-time. And your employer must have more than 50 employees within 75 miles of where you work. However, it also heavily depends on the company you work for. That’s why it is essential to ask these questions if you’re planning to get pregnant relatively soon and if you’re thinking about moving to the US. 

Most of my students are from Poland and of course, probably around half of them are women. From that half, two-thirds are mothers. So it would be an understatement to say that I am familiar with maternity leave in Poland. And honestly, every time I talk about it with my women students, I am always shocked about their great maternity leave.

This is what I’ve learned: Employees in Poland are entitled to 12 months of parental leave (yes, a whole year!!!). 

The first 6 months (20 weeks) are absolutely mandatory, no matter whether a new-mom has requested it or not. 

Now, for the next part, I may get it wrong, so if I am, please correct me. But from my understanding, if a new-mom decides to take the whole year off, then she is entitled to 80% of her salary throughout that year. Furthermore, after the first 14 weeks, the parental leave can be shared between the parents (how awesome is that?!). And of course, like the US, their employer cannot terminate her during her maternity leave.  

Even though I don’t have any students from Denmark, I decided to talk about their maternity leave because of a podcast I listened to. While listening to the podcast and learning about Denmark’s maternity leave, it made me realize, truly, how far behind the US is, in terms of maternity leave. 

Here are the highlights: You get a paid maternity leave no matter what. It means that either your employer pays you for it or the Udbetaling Denmark, according to Øresund Direkt. Just like Poland, in Denmark women are eligible for a 52 week paid parental leave. 

Furthermore, parents can share the parental leave after the 14 week mark. How cool is that? 

And now, for the icing on the cake, parents can extend their parental leave! So according to the website that was linked earlier, you are able to extend the joint parental leave by either 8 or 14 weeks. However, this does affect your parental allowance each month. Nonetheless, parents can have 40 to 46 weeks of joint parents leave. And in the future, you can take a whole year off so that you can spend with your child however you want to spend it - be discovering new places or going on a grand adventure. 

What does maternity leave look like in your country? Are you happy with it, why or why not? I’d love to hear about it.