SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

PARENTING

How does VAB work? Getting time off work when your child is sick

It's never nice for a child or their parent when a little one is ill, but families in Sweden benefit from generous policies allowing mums, dads, and caregivers time off when a child is unwell. Here's what working parents should know about their rights.

A parent vabbing - looking after his sick daugher
Read on to find out what assistance parents are entitled to in Sweden, and how to claim it. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The Swedish welfare system has a generous attitude towards parents, with lengthy parental leave for newborns and flexibility with working hours as the child grows older. Another big bonus is a special benefit offering temporary parental leave when a child is ill.

This is known as vård av barn (VAB), and you’ll also hear it used as a verb, in Swedish (vabba) or among English-speakers in Sweden: “Mathias is vabbing today.” Employers cannot refuse you this time off if your child is unwell, but there are a few things you need to know about VAB and how it all works.

When can I take it?

You can take VAB to care for an unwell child if they are aged between eight months to the day before their 12th birthday.

As well as using VAB to stay at home while your child is ill, you can take it if you’re accompanying them to a doctor, dental or other health-related appointment. However, if you’ve already taken 60 VAB days in one year, you can only use the remaining days if the child is ill and needs to be looked after at home.

How much time can I take off?

It’s possible to take as many days as needed each year, up to a total of 120 per child. The average parent in Sweden takes seven to eight days per child per year.

The vast majority of parents take a full day off when they need to use VAB, but if you have flexible childcare options, you can choose to VAB only for part of the day: 12.5, 25, 50, or 75 percent of your usual working hours. This also applies if your child falls ill during the day and needs to be collected from school early, for example.

Will I get paid?

Yes. You’re entitled to approximately 80 percent of your wage up to a maximum limit. You can calculate how much you’ll receive here (link in Swedish). This money doesn’t come from your employer but from Försäkringskassan, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, so you need to apply specifically for the benefit.


Photo: Gorm Kallestad/SCANPIX NORGE/SCANPIX

What are the requirements?

The child you’re looking after must be aged between eight months and 12 years, and must live in Sweden or another EU country. The parent must also be insured in Sweden (this is usually the case automatically if you work in the country, but new arrivals should make sure to sign up with Försäkringskassan which is responsible for administering VAB and other benefits).

If you need to be off work caring for your child for more than seven consecutive days, you’ll need to provide a note from a doctor or nurse, which can be sent to Försäkringskassan. This is seven days in total, not just working days, so weekends are included. If the child has a contagious illness and can’t go to the doctor’s, it’s possible to get a certificate issued over the phone.

From the start of 2019, Försäkringskassan increased checks on VAB benefit with the aim of cracking down on those who claim it fraudulently. 

What if my child is aged under eight months or over 12?

For children under eight months, you are expected to take out parental leave benefits rather than VAB if you need time off to care for the child (for example, if the regular caregiver is sick). An exception is if a child under eight months old is hospitalised, in which case you can receive VAB.

Similarly, if one parent is already receiving parental leave benefits, it’s not generally possible for the other parent or caregiver to take VAB to care for another sick child in the family; it’s expected that the first parent should care for both. If you think that extenuating circumstances apply in your case, contact Försäkringskassan to speak to an advisor.

For children aged between 12 and 16, you can take VAB in certain circumstances, for example acute illness or a doctor’s appointment. In both cases, you’ll need a doctor’s statement, either confirming the child’s condition or, in the latter instance, confirming that it was necessary for the parent to accompany the child to the appointment.

There are a few cases in which it’s possible to take VAB even for a child outside that age range, particularly if a child aged under 18 has a serious illness; again, you should contact Försäkringskassan if you’re unsure whether that applies to you. 

How do I apply for VAB?

VAB benefit is paid out by Sweden’s Försäkringskassan, rather than your employer, and the quickest way to receive the payment is to apply online or via the agency’s app.

In 2019, the way to apply for VAB changed in order to make it easier for parents.

Previously, it was necessary to register VAB on the first day you stayed at home, but as of January 1st, 2019, all you need to do is to apply for payment once you’re back at work again. This can be done on the Försäkringskassan website, or even via their app. Just remember to apply no later than 90 days after the first VAB day.

If you submit your claim before the 15th of the month, you should receive the money by the 25th (the usual payday in Sweden), but if you submit it after the 15th, you’ll receive it on the 25th of the following month.

How should parents split the time?

That’s up to you, but it’s not possible for both parents to take VAB benefit at the same time – even if more than one child is ill.

However, a good option for families with two parents working full time is to alternate VAB days and split the time between them. It’s also OK to work half the day each. The total 120-day allowance applies to each child, not each parent.

You can track VAB time online at the Försäkringskassan website, where a calendar records how many days have been taken each year and by whom.

If my child is ill during a planned holiday, can I swap it for VAB?

You can’t plan around illness, and swapping a week relaxing in the sun for a week cooped up at home with an unwell child is far from ideal.

If you had planned to travel within Sweden or another country in the EU, it’s often possible to exchange the holiday days for VAB if a child falls ill, meaning that you don’t lose out on your annual leave allowance. However, this isn’t a guaranteed right and it all depends on whether your employer approves the switch.


Photo: Stefan Bladh/SvD/TT

What if I work for myself?

You still have a right to take VAB if you’re self-employed or own your own company. Just follow the same steps by registering VAB with Försäkringskassan when you’re back at work again. If you’re self-employed, the amount of VAB benefit you receive is linked to your SGI, just as with other benefits.

What if I’m unemployed?

If you are receiving job-seekers’ benefit (a-kassa), you can’t receive VAB benefit at the same time. However, if you are unable to receive your unemployment benefit because you’re at home looking after your child, you can claim VAB benefit instead.

What if I can’t miss work?

Most Swedish employers are very understanding about parents’ needs, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re unable to take the benefits you’re entitled to. However, sometimes it might not be convenient to miss time at work, for example if you have a crucial meeting or deadline. In some workplaces, employers will allow you to work from home or to bring a child with a non-contagious illness to work (this is known as ‘vobba‘ – a mix of ‘vabba‘ and ‘jobba‘), so that may be an option if your child doesn’t require constant care or to be taken to a hospital or doctor. But remember you’re not allowed to claim a salary and VAB at the same time.

Parents aren’t the only ones who can take VAB. Another person, such as a neighbour, relative or friend, is also allowed to claim the benefit if they need to look after a child. The right to do this is protected by Swedish law, so employers cannot deny it.

The first time a non-parent takes a VAB day, they need to register with Försäkringskassan. If the other person taking VAB does not have a family connection to the child (such as living with the child, being a foster parent or future adoptive parent, an ex-spouse of the parent, or someone else with legal custody of the child), they will need to call Försäkringskassan’s customer services on the first day of taking VAB, so that they’re registered as having a link to the child, and then they and the child’s parents will have to sign a confirmation form.

After doing that the first time, or if the carer already has a family connection to the child, all they need to do is to register VAB online or via the app.

What if my child is seriously ill?

In serious cases, where the 120-day allowance isn’t enough, parents can take an unlimited amount of time off to care for a severely unwell child. In some circumstances, it’s possible for both parents to be at home.

Article first written in March 2018 and updated in May 2022.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FAMILY

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Are you raising children in Sweden? Here are a few very personal tips for what not to do from Alex Rodallec, who was raised in Sweden by a French Breton mother.

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Raising children is hard enough as it is without having to do it in another country. The added difficulties of being a foreigner can be taxing: grappling with the language, the cultural differences, not being well acquainted with how the system works.

So how do you get advice from someone who knows a bit about the issues your child might face growing up as the child of an immigrant in Sweden? One way is to ask someone who was raised by an immigrant parent in Sweden.  Someone like me.

I am no expert in child rearing, and have no children of my own. I can, however, tell you a few things that you should try to avoid. Here are a few of my best tips for what not to do.

Do not reject your adopted country’s culture

This does not mean that you should assimilate completely. It is, however, a good idea to try to embrace your adopted country’s culture as a positive, rather than a negative, for the sake of your children.

Why? Because your children will not have your cultural identity, at least not entirely. And this will be true no matter what you do to prevent it. They will in part become Swedish, imbued with many of the values and customs of Swedish society, with the behaviour and norms.

This might not sound so serious, but if you are someone who is resentful of Sweden, or if you ever become resentful of it, it might become a serious problem.

My mother, who was French, first came to Sweden as a tourist and then later to work, but with no plans of staying. Then she met my father, a Bolivian man, whom she would eventually divorce when I was around two years old. After that my mother went to live in France with my big sister and me, and with the intention of staying.

The next part I am not so sure about, but I believe my father might have threatened legal action if she did not return with us to Sweden. Whatever the reason for her involuntary return, I do know that my mother’s dislike of Sweden grew with her resentment of having to stay there. And sad as that may be, because of our Swedishness she eventually began seeing us children – though only intermittently – as physical manifestations of the country she hated. Or perhaps we were a constant reminder of the fact that she could not leave. Why could she not leave? Because she loved us. How complicated the twists and turns of life sometimes play out.

Growing up, my mother would often tell us that it was our fault that she was “stuck in this country”, and her most common use of the word ‘Swedish’ was as a profanity directed at us, her children. Naturally this created a dissociation with Sweden and Swedishness, primarily in myself and my big sister, and to a lesser degree in my little sister.

And even though my mother had put my big sister and I in private schools with other children of immigrants (The Catholic and English Schools in Gothenburg), coupled with the fact that we went to preschool in France, we had still committed the cardinal sin of absorbing ‘Swedishness’. My little sister had it the worst when it came to this. She went to a Swedish public school, and never had the experience of going to preschool in France, and so was the most ‘Swedish’ of us all.

To this day, the subject of Swedishness and the like or dislike of Sweden is still a topic of conversation whenever I talk to or meet my sisters. My little sister has accepted her Swedishness, and lives in Gothenburg where we grew up. But my big sister and I both live abroad, and to varying degrees have issues with the country we grew up in. I am slowly learning to love and accept my Swedishness while living in France, but my big sister lives in London and baulks at the thought of ever moving back to Sweden. We are a separated family, in part due to our varying degrees of acceptance of Swedishness.

Perhaps I should stress that my mother was not a horrible person, but she suffered greatly from the circumstances of her life.

So, do not fill your children with your resentment of the country they will grow up in, it may very well be detrimental to their well being and their integration into the society they grew up in.

Do not ignore the complexity of cultural identity

Even though cultural identity can become symbolic of underlying issues, as was the case with my mother, it can also be a great resource, albeit one that might need some help along the way.

Being half French, half Bolivian, born and raised in a Swedish multiethnic suburb, had me untangling the threads that make up my cultural identity for decades. An experience common among multi-ethnic children. Your children might eventually need your support in this, I know I could have used some help.

My advice is to promote the idea that one can be many things all at once. And that to a certain degree these things are contextual. I myself am Bolivian to a greater degree when I spend time with the Bolivian side of the family, and more French when I spend time with the French side.

Having multiple cultural backgrounds also has benefits. Your reference points are multiplied compared to someone who has only one cultural background. You can act as a sort of cultural bridge, much like Commander Spock in Star Trek, for the Trekkies out there. Beyond that, having multiple languages is an asset, children who grow up speaking multiple languages struggle a bit at first, but then tend to outdo their peers in language mastery.

Do not be intimidated by how well your children adapt to Swedish society

This one might be slightly odd, but is an experience that many of my friends of immigrant background have shared with me.

Because your children will grow up as cultural insiders they will master the ins and outs of Swedish society much better than you. Most parents want their children to outdo them, but a parent also wants to feel useful and capable in front of their children. You might have a hard time coping with the fact that your children at a certain point, and perhaps much quicker than they would if you were in your home country, will outdo you. On top of that, in many cultures there is also a more authoritarian parent role, where children ought to know their place as children, and let the parent lead and decide.

My advice is: if you have an issue with your children making you feel inadequate, try to think of yourselves as a family unit. If your children can help you do better, that is good for all of you, try to embrace that. And why not look at it as a great opportunity to learn?

What are your best tips for parents raising children in Sweden? Share your experiences of parenting in Sweden with The Local by emailing us at [email protected] 

SHOW COMMENTS