Maternity Leave

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Maternity leave policies leave a lot to be desired in many countries. The length of time, conditions of eligibility, financial benefits and other aspects of leave after the birth of a child vary considerably around the world. For, example, The United States, along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and Lesotho are some of the only countries in the world that provide no type of financial support for mothers, according to a study done by McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy. At the other end of the scale, Sweden leads the pack of those surveyed with respect to duration of leave, providing 420 paid days, at 80% of the job's salary. As for percentage of salary, Croatia, Serbia, Denmark and Norway are among countries that pay 100%.

Accordingly, a mother-to-be or contemplating-to-be should acquaint herself with her company's and government's provisions for maternity leave, including not only pay and duration, but also other benefits, such as assisted home care.

Maternity leave refers to the period of time that a female employee takes off from work following the birth of her baby. While some women begin taking their leave a week to a month before the expected birth because of discomfort or the desire to plan for the arrival of the baby, others wait until the last moment so they can maximize their time with the baby once it arrives. The number of days off allowed under maternity leave varies from country to country, as well as the local jurisdiction. For example, in Singapore, the law provides for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. (In addition, the employee is entitled to absent herself from work four weeks immediately before and 12 weeks immediately after delivery, totaling 16 weeks.) In the United States, most organizations allow female employees to use their sick and vacation leave towards the maternity leave, while the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth of their child.

To ensure a smooth transition in the run-up and after the birth of the baby, it is best that the female employee first check with the HR department about the organization's maternal leave policy and the benefits that she is entitled to, so that both parties can work out a mutually-acceptable arrangement.

It is generally understood, if not legally mandated, that employers are prohibited from dismissing an employee who is on maternity leave. Similarly, employees cannot use the maternity benefit period to offset the notice of termination. Once an employee leaves employment, her maternity benefits will cease too. In addition, an employee cannot work for another employer during the period of her maternity leave. If she does so, not only her maternity benefit be forfeited, she may face dismissal too.

Despite existing benefits of maternity leave, there have been calls for improvements and enhancements, e.g., in Canada. Among the changes sought are:

- An increase in the maximum leave salary from the current 55% (capped at $40,000 per year)

- Home assistance and much longer leave (citing the French model)

- Maternity leave for self-employed women

- Pre-birth application for leave (Currently, applications are accepted by Service Canada only after the birth of the child, with resulting delays and post-application period without benefits)

- Reduction in the number of job hours required for maternity leave

- Employer top-ups of government maternity leave benefits

- Longer leave for multiple births, e.g., twins

A question worth exploring is whether, in a given jurisdiction that recognizes and mandates paternity leave, both husband and wife are eligible for leave with benefits (especially if working in the same company).
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