Thursday, June 09, 2005

Ahh maternity leave ... paid, loooong and guilt free!

Maternity leave is truly a wonderful thing in Finland. I've been on leave since a month before the due date in April and am not expected back in the office until Jan 2006 when I'm guaranteed a return to my previous position (or equivalent). In the meantime, I earned three months full pay and for the rest of the time, I'm paid a generous monthly sum by KELA (the national social welfare system). And best of all -- its GUILT FREE!!!

Paid leave
All mothers who have been covered by the national health insurance from KELA for at least 180 days immediately before the due date are eligible for the maternity (and later parental allowance) allowance. To make the claim, your midwife at your local Neuvola (health clinic) will provide you with a form that verifies you have been pregnant for at least 154 days. You then drop this form in the mail and KELA will send you a confirmation of the benefit once they process it.

The maternity allowance is paid for the first 105 days (not including Sundays or holidays -- Saturday is considered to be a working day for many benefits), so about the first three months. So, this amount is paid to the mother as she is expected to remain at home to care for the baby during this time. The amount of the allowance is based on your last tax year's income. KELA provides a nifty calculator to help you figure out the daily amount.

The minimum daily amount is 15.20 EUR paid to those working outside the home, studying or unemployed the previous tax year.

In my case, my employer paid my regular salary the first three months of my maternity leave. During this time, the KELA benefit was paid to my employer. Now, I receive a smaller sum from KELA which is about a third of my regular monthly income after tax. Still, by any comparison to the US - extraordinarily generous!

Actually the allowance I'm receiving now is not just a maternity allowance - its the paternal allowance designed for either the mother or father, whoever is staying at home. In practice, its nearly always the mother who continues the leave. This benefit is paid for 158 weekdays, or about 5 months. The amount is calculated in the same manner as the maternity benefit. Both are taxable income.

Details from KELA

Looonnngggg and Guilt Free

I suspect one of the main drivers for many mothers returning to work is simply the need for income. With the money questions ameliorated with the maternity and parental allowances in Finland, the drive to return to work subsides quickly. Not that I'm not a career oriented woman - I am. I have an MBA on top of a college degree and a position at work that carries responsibility, is challenging and on my career path. Its just that I know when I've complete my leave, I'll be able to return to that position without any repercussions on my career, thus dealing a blow to the other reason many women are anxious to return to the workplace.

In fact, as I was getting ready to begin my leave (one month before the due date!), many colleagues wondered if I was planning to take the usual year or was I going to extend my leave for another 2 years. It was assumed I would be gone at least for the year and possibly chose the option of staying home until the child is three. After the extended leave, I would still be guaranteed my job when I returned. No one - and I mean absolutely no one, begrudged me for the leave, hinted that I'd be slipping off the career ladder, etc. What a relief to be able to enjoy this wonderful and unique time with our little one without a single ounce of guilt!!! That's already worth more than any amount of money.

My employer in the meantime would hire a 'maternity leave replacement' worker to cover my tasks temporarily. This topic deserves its own posting, but briefly there is an influx of mostly women who easily end up in a series of these temporary positions. Though temporary workers have access to many of the same benefits as full-time employees, they are still in a precarious situation and at a disadvantage when it comes to trying to obtain loans,etc. They are also not eligible for maternity leave - ie, sometimes having to put off their own families.

Its estimated that each woman out on maternity leave costs the employer about 8,000 - 10,000 EURs in wages, recruitment, training and related expenses.

Naturally, I know many women crave the workplace because they get such a great deal of satisfaction from their jobs and find themselves miserable at home. Fine. These women should return to work as soon as possible for the benefit of themselves, their children and families.

1 comment:

Maiju said...


After we had our second Daugther Viivi it was recession time in Finland and my husband couldn't get a job. I had finnished my teacher studies the day before the birth of Viivi. Teachers always get work. So I headed for work and my husband stayed home getting the paternal allowance.

Even though maternity allowance is designed so that either mom or dad can use it I always felt guilty of leaving my baby for a job! It was really hard for me to do that. Actually Juha (my husband) is the one who has been home taking care of the children much more than me.

Jonna (our first daughter) was only two weeks old when I continued my studies. Of course it's not the same to go on with your studies than go to work. It felt more like having the time for yourself what you desperately need after the baby changing your life.

During that time I got both the student allowance and maternity allowance for a while. Juha had just left his former job in military and got a big umemployment allowance. I guess our country has supported our family guite a bit. That's why I'm happy to pay our high taxes because I know what it guarantees to us.

I wanted to add one thing to Piritta's comment. Even though a mother doesn't have a permanent job she will get same benefits than the one with a permanent job. She will simply loose the job but the allowances are the same.