Maternity leave: Striking the right balance – Searching for a Happy Medium for Both Employers and Employees

Very recently, Dubai ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum issued a new decree which aims to increase government employees’ paid maternity leave entitlement from 60 days to 90 days. Additionally, on WAM, it was announced that this was seen as a positive move to bring more balance to the workplace and recognize gender balance within a legal framework. We here at Beneple couldn’t agree more and think it is great news which will send the right message to the private sector too. Yet, we understand that it is a real juggling act to keep employees happy but make sound decisions that benefit the business.

Tricky, yes. But, achievable? Totally.

 

Across the globe, maternity leave varies greatly. In South Africa and Canada, female employees are entitled by law to receive up to four months of maternity leave from companies. This leave is essentially unpaid, and your employer may choose, whether or not, to pay you your full salary during this time. However, the good news for Canadians is that – should your company not pay you any compensation during this time – Canadian labour code entitles birth moms, expectant mothers and those looking after a newborn, to 17 weeks of maternity leave and they are entitled to claim maternity benefits from the government if you are eligible for Canada’s Employment Insurance. When part of Canada’s Employment Insurance programme, the majority of employees in Canada will automatically have a percentage deducted from their paycheck every month in the aims to fund this government initiative, and once an employee (father or mother) is entitled to parental leave, they are able to claim an amount equal to 55% of their average weekly pay. So, although the government isn’t able to completely cover all the loss of earnings, some coverage is provided. On the plus side though, both parents are entitled to the benefit, meaning that they could potentially receive up to 35 weeks of benefits.[1]

In the US, however, access to maternity leave is largely dependent on your employer. Of course, there are pros and cons to this; one of the major ones being that in the private sector, large-scale companies – Google, Netflix or Amazon – can use this to their advantage and increase staff retention and leverage it as a bargaining tool when attracting new employees. Netflix – probably the forerunner in this area – announced that parents are entitled to ‘unlimited’ leave during the first year of the child’s life making them exceptional in this area. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the U.S. provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the event of having or adopting a baby, essentially making the U.S. the only industrialized nation in the world to not offer paid leave. A bit disappointing to say the least.

However, across the Atlantic, on a more positive note, although their taxes may be among the highest in the world, Sweden has the best deal of them all with a guaranteed 480 days of parental leave – with 90 days allocated to the father. Furthermore, for 390 days, parents are entitled by law to 80% of their salary, making Sweden a country who has really endeavored to aim for a true work and family balance among their population. [2]

 

Pros and cons of maternity leave for companies

Of course, it is all fine and well for big companies to be able to be more ‘generous’ in their packages surrounding parental leave, but what about smaller companies? It has been shown that SMEs generally try to improve staff retention through keeping their staff happy as it is more expensive to replace staff. Paid maternity leave is a great way to make staff feel valued while also helping to reduce unnecessary business costs gained through the losing of an employee and incurring the additional recruitment costs. This point is brought even closer home in that replacing staff in the UAE is a much costlier affair with visas, flights, gratuity, relocation and other additional costs involved. However, non-parents may resent this extra leave being doled out and this can damage morale in the office. Which is why some companies are now instituting a policy whereby every employee gets a “vacation benefit” which can either be used for family duties or as one sees fit. This is an alternative that businesses could consider and use in conjunction with the necessary statutory law.

Currently in the UAE, there are various laws dependent on sector and area. For example, in the DIFC, employees are entitled to be paid their normal salary for 33 working days and thereafter; they are entitled to 50% of their working wage for another 32 days. In the private sector, as regards Federal Labour Law UAE Article 30 states that employed women are entitled to 45 days paid leave which can be taken prior and after the birth of the child. Further to that, the mother is entitled to 100 days more of unpaid leave should she feel she needs it. Rated as one of the top companies to work for in the UAE, Omnicom Media Group recently increased its fully remunerated maternity leave from 60 to 90 days; adding to the logic, that happy moms make good business sense.

 

Paternity leave is vital too

Of course, it’s a huge win now that the government sector in Dubai has extended its 60 days of fully paid maternity leave to 90 days; allowing new mums precious time to bond with their new bundles of joy before returning to the office. However, unfortunately, for Dads, the law could be further improved to give them the necessary time off too. Most companies in the UAE are offering around 3 days of paid paternity leave which is a far cry off from the 90 days that Swedish fathers are entitled too. Fathers are no different from mothers and need that crucial time in the post-birth days to support the moms and bond with their child. So, this is something that businesses need to consider more carefully in the future going forward.

 

What do we need here in the UAE?

Although the groundwork is slowly being put in place, SMEs and larger companies need to work harder at keeping staff happy and energized through better care. Having a child is a very special time in parent’s life and companies who offer more understanding and workable solutions stand to benefit from increased staff loyalty and contentment which will lead to better overall worker productivity.

Beneple currently offers flexible working hours for its employees with part-time and “work from home” options; helping to ease the transition back to the workforce while being able to bring more balance to family and work life. Making it possible for everyone to benefit all round.

 

[1] https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/ei-maternity-parental/benefit-amount.html

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35225982

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