Labour law provides for several types of leave for working parents: maternity leave, parental leave and unpaid extended post-maternity leave. In addition, employee-fathers can take so-called paternity leave of two weeks. Statistics show, however, that while paternity leave is used more and more, parental leave is only used by 1% of men. Perhaps, the work-life balance directive will change this.
Length of leave and entitlement to take leave
Maternity leave of 14 weeks must be taken by the employee-mother of the child. Parental leave is available equally to both the father of the child and the mother of the child, which means that the parents can share it.
Although the right to take parental leave is granted to both parents, statistics clearly show that women are far more likely to take it.
According to statistics published by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy (PL-MRiPS), 410,300 people, including 4,200 men, took parental leave in 2019. Similarly in 2020.
According to the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, in the first four months of 2020, 236,000 people benefited from maternity benefits on parental leave, of which less than 2,000 were men.
The above figures are hardly news – the media have long indicated that the percentage of men taking parental leave fluctuates around 1%.
Work-life balance directive
Perhaps it was the above data that provided the impetus for change at EU level, resulting in Directive 2019/1158 of the European Parliament and of the Council (EU) on work-life balance for parents and carers, known as the work-life balance directive.
Discrimination against parents
The foundation of the directive is the desire to combat discrimination on the grounds of parenthood, in particular by breaking down stereotypes relating to the division of the roles of men and women regarding family and working life respectively. In this context, one of the most important changes is the introduction of nine weeks of non-transferable parental leave for the father.
According to experts, the need for change is behind:
- women’s postponement of returning to work due to the low flexibility of the available forms of employment to reconcile work and childcare;
- working women’s fears about the negative impact of a long-term break from work on their career development or even about losing their jobs, with the resulting increased female unemployment and lower pensions.
In addition, the introduction of compulsory leave for the father of a child is expected to increase his participation in family life, levelling the playing field between men and women in the labour market, in particular by:
- sufficient representation of women and the empowerment of women in the work environment;
- enabling women to combine their professional and private lives to a greater extent;
- encouraging men to share childcare responsibilities equally.
Punishment for parenthood, new privilege or discrimination?
In the view of many, the changes introduced will do little to help, as they merely reiterate the existing provisions under which the right to take parental leave is granted to both parents.
The introduction of compulsory involvement in childcare is perceived by many communities not as an incentive to increase their participation in family life, but as discrimination caused by having to interrupt their professional activity – often against the decision not only of themselves, but also of the child’s mother.
If the previous regulations allowed for independent shaping of the use (and division) of parental leave between parents, why should the new regulations force employee-parents to take days off? These and many other questions are raised by the planned implementation of EU regulations into the Polish legal order.
Many organisations are already asking themselves whether and how paternal employees will benefit from the new arrangements, as well as who will be responsible for controlling paternal employees in this regard and how to address the reluctance of fathers to go on parental leave.
Plans of the legislator
An amendment to the Labour Code implementing the provisions of the work-life balance directive is scheduled for early next year. Given the increasing doubts and questions, it is already worth considering how to prepare the organisation for the upcoming changes – especially as there will be many of them.
Paula Staszak-Urbańska, LL.M., trainee attorney-at-law (PL)