Maternity leave is the leave from work to which a woman is entitled for a continuous period before and after giving birth. The Maternity Protection Convention (No. 103) of 1952 provides that women working in industrial enterprises and in non-industrial and agricultural occupations, including wage earners working at home, should be granted a minimum of 12 weeks' leave, at least six of which must be taken after the child is born.
This period of leave is to be extended by any period between the expected and actual dates of the birth, if the actual date is later than expected, as well as in the case of illness resulting from pregnancy or childbirth. Where the woman's health makes it necessary and where this is practicable, Recommendation No. 95 provides that the maternity leave should be extended to 14 weeks. If a medical certificate is produced, this period may be extended still further. In practice, collective bargaining agreements between unions and employers often increase the leave entitlement.
In many countries, a minimum length of service with the same employer and advance notice for taking maternity leave are required. In some countries, leave entitlement may depend on the number of children already in the family, the frequency of births, or both.
Convention No. 103 provides that, while a woman is absent from work on maternity leave, it shall be unlawful to dismiss her. A considerable number of countries have extended the protection against dismissal to a certain period following the employee's return to work after maternity leave.
Most countries provide cash benefits to replace partially the income lost during maternity leave. Without these benefits, many women could not afford to take maternity leave, or might be forced to return to work before their health allowed.
In order to promote gender equality and to adapt to the needs of working families, a considerable number of countries and the European Union have adopted legislation in which leave beyond childbirth is granted to either parent.
→ see also Cash and medical benefits for maternity, Maternity protection, Parental leave and Teachers
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