Christine’s due date is rapidly approaching – she’s in week 36 of the pregnancy – and so we’re planning our time off work to look after our new baby.
Christine is the main wage earner in our household, so she will be taking the standard six months. Her employer offers her six months on full pay, thankfully. There’s also some annual leave on top, so she finishes work today and will go back in July. She can take up to a full year, but the latter part of this would be effectively unpaid, and we would not be able to live on my salary alone.
I’m also entitled to paternity leave. In Britain, the legal minimum is up to two weeks at 90% of your pay; my employer boosts this to two weeks full pay. Combined with two weeks of annual leave, and my workplace being closed during the Christmas break, this gives me a total of five and a half weeks off.
For me, this will be the longest time I’ve spent off work since my period of unemployment in 2009 – apart from a two week break for my wedding in 2013, I’ve never had much more than a week away from work at once. Of course, dealing with a newborn baby is not exactly a holiday and my return to work in February may actually be a relief. We’ll see.
The legally-mandated maternity and paternity benefits in the UK are reasonably generous by global and even European standards. Some countries allow less time off, and many don’t allow any paternity leave at all, so we’re fortunate in that respect. If it weren’t for the two weeks extra paid leave, I’d either have to negotiate some unpaid leave or take a big chunk of my annual leave to be able to spend time with my new baby. Or, I’d just have to suck it and return to work early, probably in a sleep-deprived, unproductive state.
With this in mind, it surprises me just how little maternity leave is available in the United States of America. Mothers get just four weeks unpaid leave – despite many women needing at least six weeks to fully recover from childbirth – and partners don’t get anything. Of course, individual companies can offer their own packages – Mark Zuckerberg is taking two months’ paternity leave from Facebook – but unless you’re lucky enough to get a job at a great company, you’ll get little or no time off to recover and spend time with your newborn.
This video from Buzzfeed explains how bad the situation in America is. America is now the only country in the world, bar Papua New Guinea, that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. Even countries like Saudi Arabia, where womens’ rights are stuck in the middle ages, get 10 weeks paid leave. Wikipedia has a full list of per-country entitlements.
Anyway, I’ll let you know when the baby comes. We’re expecting the birth to happen early.