Last year, the European Union published a directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Caregivers. The aim of this directive is to promote gender equality.
“The imbalance in the design of work-life balance policies between women and men reinforces gender stereotypes and differences between work and care… Furthermore, the use of work-life balance arrangements by fathers, such as leave or flexible working arrangements, has been shown to have a positive impact in reducing the relative amount of unpaid family work undertaken by women and leaving them more time for paid employment.”
One of the points that this directive aims to address is paternity leave, and thus the EU has announced that all Member States must offer a minimum of 10 days of paid paternity leave by 2021. This will be a drastic change for the European Union. As a whole, there are no current standards regarding paternity leave in the EU. For some countries, major legislative changes will need to take place in order for countries to be compliant with this new directive, while other countries offer generous paternity leave that goes beyond the new mandatory minimum of 10 (working) paid days. In addition, the new paternity leave laws should be granted to all fathers, regardless of marital or family status.
According to the EU, the average percentage of fathers that actually utilize paternity leave across all EU member states is approximately 10%, but there is a vast difference in that percentage when we look at each country individually. For example, based on data from 2016, 44% of fathers in Sweden take paternity leave while only a mere .02% of fathers in Greece use their paternity leave. It was also found that the main reasons for a father to take paternity leave generally came down to 3 things:
- No income loss during paternity leave or close to 100% of the regular pay
- Leave that was geared towards the individual rather than based on family or parental leave
- Leave that coincided with the birth or the end of the mother’s maternity leave
Let’s go over some of the various EU countries to understand the vast differences in laws between countries and how this will change paternity leave laws.
France offers fathers 11 days of paid leave for the birth of a child. However, next summer, paternity leave entitlement will be 28 days (of which 7 days will be considered mandatory leave while the remaining 21 days are optional). France’s president, Macron, has said that the majority of the French population believes that fathers are not entitled to enough leave. In addition, the French government wants to position themselves as one of the more generous European countries when it comes to paternity leave. Therefore, the current and future laws on paternity leave in France will not be affected by the EU directive.
Fathers are entitled to 10 days of paid paternity leave and must be taken within the first 10 days of the birth of the child. The first 3 days of the leave are paid by the employer and the remaining leave is paid by the Health Insurance Fund at a rate of 82% of the regular pay.
In Belgium, however, a new government was sworn in on October 1, 2020, and has vowed to review many laws that “will pursue an active policy on gender equality and proactive policy that will tackle structural and historical imbalances,” and will include a review of the current paternity leave laws. As Belgium currently offers the minimum amount of paternity leave based on the EU directive, only time will tell how the laws will change.
Spain has very generous laws on paternity leave that went into effect at the beginning of this year. Fathers can take 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, in which the first 4 weeks must be taken uninterrupted after the birth of a child. The mother may also give up to two weeks of her non-compulsory leave to her partner. During the paternity period, the employee is not paid a salary but instead a benefit in lieu. The benefit grants the employee a maximum of 4,070 EUR a month. If their salary is higher than 4,070 EUR, the employer can decide to pay the difference as a paternity supplement.
What’s interesting about Spain is that in 2019, there were more fathers that took paternity leave than mothers that take maternity leave. Part of this is due to the fact that there are more men in the workforce and qualify for this leave. Regardless, the new EU directive will have no effect on paternity leave in Spain as it already is way above the minimum threshold.
Fathers in Greece are entitled to 2 days’ paid leave for the birth of a child. According to the EU data, Greek fathers rarely take paternity leave. Hopefully, we will see a trend of more fathers taking this leave when the new leave laws will come into effect.
Fathers are entitled to 5 days of paid paternity leave and can be used until the child reaches the age of 8 weeks. If the father chooses to participate in childcare courses, leave can be extended for an additional 10 days. This extension can only be used once and on the birth of the first child.
In Romania, a driving factor for a parent to choose not to take parental leave has to do with the wages a mother or father receives. As parental leave only grants the parent for a percentage of their wages and is capped at a certain amount, it is generally more favorable for the parent who earns more to take the leave. Therefore, in Romania, it is most likely that the mother will take parental leave over the father, creating an even wider gap in gender equality. So, with the new EU directive, we will see a slight evening out of this gap.
Fathers In Bulgaria are entitled to 15 days of paid paternity leave, paid at the rate of 90% of the regular pay. However, this is another country where fathers rarely take paternity leave, and if they do so, it is generally taken around the time that the child is born. In addition, this benefit isn’t usually used to the full extent.
In Portugal, the number of days a father receives for paternity leave was amended and enforced in the beginning of 2020 so fathers are entitled to 20 working days of leave with an additional 5 working days that are optional, whereas the previous benefit granted 15 working days of mandatory paternity leave and an additional 10 working days that are optional. In addition, leave is paid at 100% of the regular pay from the average salary of the previous 6 months before the leave is taken.
In Portugal, leave for the child is considered something integral in the development and wellbeing of the child, and in the past few decades, labor laws regarding paternity, maternity, and parental leave have been continuously updated. There is also a strong focus on allowing the father to bond with the child, as well as allowing working mothers to be able to return to work and not be penalized.
In Croatia, paternity leave is not obligated by law, but may be addressed in collective labor agreements and is generally no more than 3 days. However, fathers can take over the mother’s maternity leave when the mother is not able to care for the child in special circumstances. Otherwise, the mother can transfer the remainder of her maternity leave (total of 98 days) after the 70th day from birth.
Slovenia offers new fathers 30 calendar days of paid paternity leave. Pay is based on the average earnings over the previous 12 months, however, is capped at 2.5x average monthly salary in Slovenia (currently 3,664.31 EUR).
Slovenia is considered to have one of the more generous paternity leave laws not just in comparison to other European Union countries, but in the world.
Fathers in Austria are entitled to 1 month of unpaid paternity leave that can be taken up until the child is 24 months. While this leave is not paid, the father is entitled to a one-time payment of 700 Euros. This law was changed in 2019 and previous laws only covered fathers who worked in the private sector or federal sector or was based on the discretion of the employer.
Austria has seen an increase in desire for fathers to be able to take paternity leave since 2018, where 8% of eligible fathers took paternity leave. However, in Austria, the argument against paternity leave is focused on what it would do to small businesses if more fathers were entitled to leave, while those in favor argue the importance of the father to be able to bond with their child. So, for a country like Austria where the father is allowed a long unpaid leave, it will be quite interesting to see how the government will implement the new EU directive into their own laws.
Paternity leave in Slovakia is contingent on if the mother is entitled to maternity leave. Fathers are entitled to 28 weeks of paternity leave, starting 6 weeks after the mother gives birth, but only if the mother is not receiving maternity benefits. Single fathers are entitled to 31 weeks of paternity leave. The leave is paid by the Social security agency.
Paternity leave vastly varies not just within the European Union, but it is very clear to differentiate between the paternity leave laws between each member state. So, as we are quickly approaching 2021, it will be interesting to see which countries will adapt to the minimum and which countries will offer more benefits for new fathers in addition to what kind of stances each country will adopt regarding the importance of this leave. But not only that, we will begin to see what other kinds of childcare or parental leave (outside of the EU directive) will aid in supporting the EU’s push for gender equality.