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How does Swedish parental leave work?

I’ve been trying to find out the rules for parental leave in Sweden, but it has been hard finding them in English. Can you explain how it all works? -- Marcel, Lidingö

Published: 29 Aug 2008 18:26 CET

State-sponsored parental leave (‘föräldraledighet’) is arguably more generous in Sweden than anywhere else. Parents are entitled to a total of 480 days paid leave per child, with both mothers and fathers entitled and encouraged to share the leave. The leave can be taken at any time until the child reaches the age of seven.

So far, so good, but the maze of rules surrounding the benefits are anything but user-friendly.

Parental benefits are paid out by the state, through the Swedish Social Insurance Administration (‘Försäkringskassan’).

In line with the Swedish state’s strict policy of promoting sexual equality, mothers and fathers are expected to share the 480 days equally. It is possible for one parent to take up to 420 days of the total leave, but the remaining 60 days are then reserved for the other parent. According to Mats Mattsson, head of the parental insurance section at Försäkringskassan, fathers have as much right to their 240 days paternity leave (‘pappaledighet’) as mothers do to their 240 days maternity leave (‘mammaledighet’).

“The principle is that you split it in half, but that the father can donate part of his leave to the mother, or vice versa.”

The only exception to this rule is for single parents with sole custody. In these cases, the parent can take all 480 days leave.

Parental leave is a legal right for all parents in Sweden. If you have a young child your employer is obliged to give you time off work. In addition to the paid leave of 480 days per couple per child, you are entitled to reduce your working time by 25 percent. This, however, is not compensated for by the state.

But how much money will you get? Well, this is where it gets really complicated. The amount of money to which you are entitled will depend on your circumstances.

Most people are entitled to 80 percent of their salary, paid by the state. This applies for the first 390 days per child, for people who have been working legally in Sweden for over 240 days. However, this only applies to salaries under a certain amount, currently 410,000 kronor per year (about 34,000 kronor per month). People who earn more than this will get 80 percent of the highest permissible salary (meaning they would receive about 27,300 per month). These rules are subject to various conditions and exceptions, so check with Försäkringskassan exactly what applies in your case.

If you have not been earning money in Sweden prior to your child’s birth, you are still entitled to parental benefits, paid at the basic level of 180 kronor per day. Even if you’re new to Sweden, you are entitled to this basic benefit (as long as you are legally resident here). If you are receiving parental benefits from other countries, these are docked from your Swedish benefits.

According to the rules, people may not work at all while receiving the benefits. However, you can work part-time and take parental leave (with benefits) the rest of the time. Parental benefits can be paid out for full days, half days or even one-eighth of a day. It is not permitted for both parents to take leave at the same time. The exception to this is directly after childbirth. Then, the second parent (i.e. the father in most cases), can take out an extra ten days leave.

Parents can also get state compensation when they need to take time off work to look after a sick child. This is valid for parents of children up to 12, and sometimes for children up to 16, depending on the circumstances.

Got that? If not, then you’re not alone. The parental leave rules are notorious for being fiendishly complicated.

To claim your benefits and to find out how much you are entitled to in your particular circumstances, contact your local branch of Försäkringskassan. There are phone lines in every Swedish county – we’ve linked to a list of these below. As always in Sweden, you will almost certainly find staff willing and able to help you in English. If you need tips from someone who has been through it all before, you could try the English language forum Mums in Sweden (link below).

Do you have a question about the practicalities of living in Sweden? Then drop us a line at news@thelocal.se.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)


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