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Golden Stars for the Golden State? How California Has Better Leave Laws Than Many European Countries

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

How many times have we heard this line – “The US is the only developed country that does not offer any paid maternity leave.”

It’s true, and it is infuriating, but it does omit one important factor: a few states have taken the responsibility on themselves and generally do provide protections for families.

California mothers who work for companies with over 5 employees may be entitled to up to seven months of maternity leave, with 60-70% wage replacement through public funds for fourteen of those weeks. That's more than a lot of European countries, other than Scandinavian countries. Croatia has 6 months. The UK has 12 months. France has 3.3 months. The Netherlands has 2.8 months. Luxembourg and Austria have 1.9 months. So even within Europe there are mass differences between leave laws. So saying "Europe does it better" is not always accurate.

California actual does better than many European countries, especially for dads. Dutch dads can only take 5 days. UK dads 1 to 2 weeks. Many Californian dads can take 12 weeks off, 8 weeks being paid at 60-70% through state funds, if they work for an employer with 5 or more employees. There's almost no country providing dads with more than a week or two of paternity leave. Some countries let the parents figure out their own division of maternity and paternity leave, so the father could end up with more than 12 weeks.

Still... there's almost 40 million people in California, and there's no talk of all of these people getting European-style maternity leave and better paternity leave than many European nations.

Where are the golden stars for the golden state?

The frustrating thing with the lack of federal policy is that there is no consistency. California is just a lot more employee-friendly than Mississippi, so it's generally better to be a working mom in California than in Mississippi. It would of course be a lot better for the US to have one federal paid leave law, but while we wait we do need to educate ourselves on our State rights.

My concern with this line -“The US is the only developed country that does not offer any paid maternity leave" is that it is a partial truth. The full line should be,

“The US is the only developed country that does not offer any paid parental leave, and this is shameful, but some states do, and millions of people in those states are entitled to paid family leave. So make sure to educate yourself.

Another myth we hear is that employees only get six weeks off. That may be true for some people, but it is just not true if you work in California or in any other state if you work for an employer for 50 or more employees. What happens when these partial truths are ingrained in our minds is that we start living by them. So employers start believing they don’t have to offer any leave, and employees do not demand their leave. I've seen many California employees only request six weeks, because they heard somewhere that that's the rule. Moms often assume they only get 6 weeks paid leave in California, but that's not true because it only accounts for some disability benefits, and not for bonding benefits, which add an additional 8 weeks of payments on top of the 6+ weeks of disability.

Sometimes I wonder how much leave is just left on the table, simply left unclaimed.

If you are a business employing more than five California-based workers and you are not offering at least 4 months of disability leave to your pregnant employees, you would be doing something illegal. If you employ more than twenty employees this leave is up to seven months, so make sure to revise your policies before hiring your twentieth employee.

“But the US is the only developed country that does not offer any paid maternity leave.” Yeah, you should have done your research. Welcome to California!

Don’t leave any of your rights or your money on the table. Take what is yours under the law.


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