Parental Leave

Parental Leave Pushed Forward In Yet Another Country — Can The U.S. Be Next?

Finland has redefined parental leave — for both parents — in the country, and it’s a startling contrast to how parental leave is treated in the U.S.

Father holding his newborn baby

A new parental paid leave law was just enacted in Finland — and it’s a reminder of just how far away the United States is from a federal paid leave plan the country desperately needs. The country has redefined parental leave — now allowing it for both parents — in the country, and made the leave longer, and it’s a startling contrast to how parental leave is treated in the U.S. Here’s what you need to know.

According to Scoop Media, Finland has passed a comprehensive parental leave plan that allows parents to prioritize their family and career. In addition, for the first time, both mothers and fathers are entitled to the same length of parental leave in Finland.

In the country’s new parental leave plan, both parents are allotted 160 days of paid leave each — meaning each parent could get six months off, or stack their leave to be taken at separate times for the length of a year. When combined with the additional maternity allowance, a child can be cared for at home by a parent for approximately 14 months. The plan also allows one parent to transfer up to 63 reference days to the other parent, should they choose.

This new plan replaces Finland’s previous policy, which allowed for a maternity allowance of 105 days. Instead, fathers were entitled to 54 days of paternity leave, and the childcare allowance enables parents split 158 days for one or jointly for both parents.

“The reform is an investment in families with children that takes into account the different types of families, Minister of Social Affairs Hanna Sarkkinen said last year while discussing the plan, per Scoop Media. “It will help us on the road to a more socially sustainable society.”

The parental leave policy in Finland is generous — and the unfortunate thing is that even their previous policy is better than what the United States offers for its parents. The only time we see a comprehensive parental leave policy is through private corporations, and there are a few companies who do that right, according to The Penny Hoarder.

For example, Netflix offers unlimited leave for the first year after welcoming a baby through birth or adoption. The policy requires no forms or red tape to jump through. Still, either parent can take advantage of the policy, and they’ll receive full pay for the duration of that time. Google offers birth parents 18 weeks of fully paid leave, primary caregivers 12 weeks of full payment, and Facebook offers17 weeks of parental leave.

In the United States, there is no federally offered paid parental leave. This means that for most families to receive time off and not risk poverty, they need to have a good job that offers parental leave as a benefit — not as a right.

Through the federal government’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed into law in 1993, employers must provide up to 12 weeks of parental leave for eligible workers. Those 12 weeks are unpaid, with the only promise being job protection.

Realistically, taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave isn’t a viable option for millions of Americans struggling to cover basic needs even with a full-time paid job. Unfortunately, this means taking 12 weeks with no pay, a fairy tale dream that’s not accessible.

The federal government recently attempted to pass a federal parental leave policy through the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Plan. It was initially proposed to cover federally protected paid parental leave for 12 weeks, and it would have been the first of its kind, and long overdue.

However, months later when it became clear the plan would be stalled, the parental leave proposal was re-tooled to last for only four weeks of paid leave. Ultimately, any paid leave for parents was dropped off the bill altogether, once again leaving new parents with zero support.

So, while Americans hear the news about the new changes in parental leave policy in Finland, the reality of something even slightly similar happening here is, regrettably, very low.