Maybe it was the low cost of living and carefree bohemian lifestyle that initially lured you to the Czech lands, but as you’ve grown older and put down roots perhaps it’s the social welfare benefits that have kept you here. This was certainly my case after discovering that I was pregnant just as my husband and I were thinking over a move to America. Where else would I be able to stay home with our child following birth and beyond—and get paid for it? Surely not the U.S., where six weeks of unpaid maternity leave is the norm. (See how the Czech Republic stacks up against the rest of the world here.)
I initially took notice of the country’s generous maternity leave policies a year or so ago when a co-worker came down with a case of the baby bump. When I asked her how soon she planned on returning to our editorial offices she replied, to my utter amazement: “In three years.” As if sensing my disbelief, Zuzana peppered me with a few more bombshells: Not only would she be off for three years, after which she’d be returning to her old position as if she’d never left, she’d also be receiving a monthly allowance.
And now it’s my turn. Ever since the fourteenth pregnancy test I took showed positive, I’ve been sorting through the bureaucratic mire only to be rewarded with the good news that expats who have paid Czech health insurance premiums for at least 270 days prior to the commencement of maternity leave, and who hold a valid work contract, qualify for financial support. Freelancers, too, may collect maternity leave pay as long as they’ve paid Czech health insurance premiums for at least 180 days in the year prior to the commencement of maternity leave.
According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, it works like this:
Female employees are entitled to 28 weeks paid maternity leave (mateřská dovolená), beginning six to eight weeks prior to birth, during which time they can collect assistance called peněžitá pomoc v mateřství (PPM). The Czech Social Security Administration (ČSSZ) disperses PPM allotments to mothers, however fathers may take over the leave, by written agreement, seven weeks after childbirth. Those lucky women who have been blessed with twins are entitled to 37 weeks total of PPM support.
For the duration of the maternity leave, you should receive about 70 percent of your salary. Financial support is calculated by the amount of social insurance (sociální pojištění) you pay, therefore the more you earn the higher your remuneration. If you’re picturing mountains of paperwork and long lines when it comes to applying for maternity assistance, rest assured that it isn’t as difficult as you might think. Simply ask your Ob/Gyn for the form, “Request for Maternity Financial Assistance” and take it to your employer who should then complete and send directly to the ČSSZ.
This handy calculator will help you estimate your PPM benefits.
After maternity leave comes a lengthy period of parental leave (rodičovská dovolená) when you or your spouse can choose to spend two, three, or four years at home with Junior. Support is proportionate to the length of leave you decide on. Roughly, those on the two-year plan can expect 11,400 CZK/month while those opting for three years get 7,600 CZK/month. The four-year option gets you 7,600 CZK for the first nine months, after which payments drop to 3,800 CZK. Parents of children with disabilities can take leave for seven years at 7,600 CZK/month. If you’ve got another child under 4 at home, benefits transfer to the youngest child. In two-income households, it’s common for the parent with the lower salary to go on leave.
Once the baby arrives you’ll need to apply for parental leave by filling out the relevant form at the Department of Social Support at the Employment Office (Úřad práce, státní sociální podpora); in Prague go to the Social Department of the Municipal Town hall (Místní Úřad) associated with your permanent residence address (trvalé bydliště).
As a courtesy, you may want to notify your employer in writing of your intent to take parental leave just before you go on maternity leave. You can also do this after the birth of the child if you haven’t yet decided on the length of your leave. Either way, your employer must give you your job back, the very same position you held before, once your leave comes to an end. A few parental-leave caveats: Once you’ve selected the duration of your leave, you cannot change it. Also keep in mind that while you are receiving support, children under 3 cannot be sent to school for longer than five days a month; children above 3 no more than four hours a day daily or five whole days a month.
Critiquing the system
Lucie Bilderová is a project manager for Gender Studio, o.p.s., a non-profit organization with strident criticisms of the Czech Republic’s maternity-support structure. “We find the policies discriminatory,” she says. “Maternity leave can’t be used by women without an income for the past 270 days, entrepreneurs that don’t pay health insurance, or those who are at university. These women go directly on four-year leave with the lowest social benefits.” She also says that for women on two-year leave, finding childcare when it’s time to return to work can be tricky. “There are only around a dozen creches that accept children younger than three, so if you haven’t got an income that allows you to afford childcare, it’s almost impossible to get a full-time job back.”
This may well contribute to the fact that the Czech Republic has one of the lowest parental-leave “comeback” rates in the EU. “Women in the 20–49 year age bracket with children up to 12 years old have the lowest employment rate,” says Bilderová. She goes on to explain that with the shortage of part-time jobs in the Czech Republic—according to Bilderová, the country offers the lowest number of part-time positions in Europe—parents must often choose between long-term interruption of career or full-time work with no happy medium.
And while this may leave us stuck in the same old tired conundrum of choosing between family and career, for those of us who hail from a country that sparsely supports new mothers, the Czech Republic’s pro-family stance isn't just unique, it’s one of the perks of the expatriate life.
Financial Support for Maternity Leave at the Czech Social Security Administration (ČSSZ)
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs Maternity-Leave Policies
Baby Online: Maternity Leave FAQ (in Czech)
Baby Online: Family Leave FAQ (in Czech)
Maternity-leave Policies Around the World Map
What are your thoughts on the Czech maternity-leave system?