Paternity leave by country—10 of the best policies

December 23, 2021

The world is redefining cultural norms around raising a family as dual-income households continue to be on the rise.  

This shift to both parents working is sparking change in how multinational companies provide parental leave. Between new laws and changing expectations, multinational employers have their work cut out for them when it comes to making sense of paternity leave by country. 

What is paternity leave? 

Paternity leave refers to paid or unpaid leave from work taken by a new father to help care for an infant child.  

While similar leaves are common for mothers, the idea of paternity leave is a little more modern in most cultures. The trend to offer paternity leave is catching on because fathers are taking a more active role as partners in raising children, particularly during the newborn stage. 

How is paternity leave structured? 

It should be no surprise that the requirements and cultural expectations for paternity leave are almost unrecognizable from one country to another.  

In Lithuania, for example, fathers receive 30 days of paternity leave with partial pay. But proposed legislation for 2022 may bring more changes intended to give fathers even more time off for family duties. The goal is to minimize the extended absence of women in the workforce. 

In the United States, however, there are no federal mandates that require paternity leave. Some forward-thinking companies offer partners one to two weeks. About 20% of the U.S. workforce has access to paid family leave, but the majority of fathers skip the leave or return to work early out of fear that the time off will hurt their careers. 

And in the United Kingdom, fathers may receive one to two weeks of statutory paid paternity leave at €151.97 or 90% of regular pay if lower than the mandated allowance. Employers are on the hook for these payments upfront but can recoup them in tax credits at the end of the year.  

Who is eligible to take paternity leave? 

Eligibility for paternity leave is reserved for fathers, but what exactly constitutes becoming a father? The details vary by country, so you’ll want to watch the specifics carefully. Here are some common situations: 

  • Biological fathers 

  • Adoptive fathers (in the event of a birth or adoption) 

  • Custodial adults (foster children) 

In some countries, the father may be restricted from taking paternity leave unless certain conditions are met, like the death or incapacitation of the natural mother. Some countries exclude same-sex couples. And many countries enforce the minimum length of employment requirements.  

What countries rank in the top 10? 

Nordic countries seem to be some of the most generous when it comes to paternity leave laws. And most of the countries on our list offer a combination of flexible leave options that are paid at different rates.  

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Source: OECD 

1. Lithuania 

The European country of Lithuania offers fathers 30 days of paternity leave paid at a rate of 77.58% of regular earnings. Additional shared parental leave of up to 36 months, taken consecutively or incrementally, is also available. This child-raising benefit provides full pay for the first year and 70% salary for the remaining two years—paid through social security. 

2. Japan 

While many companies take the approach of providing flexibility through shared parental leave, Japan offers one full year of paid parental leave exclusively for fathers. This leave is entirely separate from any leave granted to mothers. Pay is tiered with the first half (or 180 days) paid at 67% of the employee’s regular salary. The remainder is paid at 50%. Pay is provided by the Japanese government. 

3. Sweden 

Sweden offers both parents access to 480 days of shared leave with partial pay. In the family-friendly Swedish culture, parents are encouraged to split leave days between them. Parental leave is paid in flexible tiers starting at 80% of the employee’s regular salary. 

4. Estonia 

Estonia is another family-friendly European country. They offer fathers two weeks of paid paternity leave at 100%, plus an additional 435 days of shared parental leave. 

5. Iceland 

New 2021 legislation in Iceland extended the duration of combined maternity and paternity leave to a total of 12 months, split equally between the mother and father (six months each). However, parents are also allowed to transfer up to one month of leave to the other parent so that one takes seven months and the other takes five. Leave is paid at 80% of the employee’s annual salary. 

Prior to January 2021, parents were entitled to three months each and the time was not transferable. 

6. Slovenia 

Fathers in the European country of Slovenia are entitled to 12 weeks of paternity leave with varying pay. The first two weeks are paid at 100% of the employee’s wages, and the remaining 10 weeks are paid at a predetermined minimum wage. 

7. Norway 

Norway is another Nordic country with generous paternity leave laws that balance parenting duties to allow for equal workforce participation. In Norway, fathers are entitled to either 15 weeks at 100% pay or 19 weeks at 80% pay through social security. 

8. Canada 

Canada updated its paternity and parental leave laws in 2019, providing five weeks of paternity leave for new fathers. Canada pays 55% of the employee’s average annual salary up to a maximum of $573 per week for the duration of paternity and parental leave. 

Across the country, only 11% of dads use their entitlement. But in Quebec, where the culture is notably family-friendly, up to 84% of dads take their paternity leave. Families in Canada also receive 35 weeks of parental leave that can be shared between parents. 

9. France 

France recently doubled their paternity leave allowance from two weeks to four weeks. The employer is responsible for the first three days of pay. The remaining 25 days are paid through social security. An additional seven days of leave are given for multiple births.  

10. Portugal 

In Portugal, fathers receive 20 days of standard paternity leave, plus an additional five optional days. Paternity leave in Portugal is paid at 100% of the employee’s regular salary through social security. 

Key takeaways on paternity leave by country 

A decade ago the term was barely heard of.  

But today, paternity leave is becoming increasingly important in modern cultures around the world. More than half of all economically developed countries have generous, family-friendly policies in place. And those who don’t are starting to consider more and more what these policies might look like. For example, beginning in April 2022, all EU members will be required to offer a minimum of 10 days of paid paternity leave. 

While some employers might find the additional leave to be disruptive, it typically works out to their benefit. By offering a little flexibility for life changes, they earn the respect of their employees, who become more committed and engaged.  

Paternity leave is just one benefit to consider in your HR strategy. Make sure to check out the full guide: How a multicultural HR strategy can unite a global team. 

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