Thursday, March 3, 2016

Workplace Social Benefits - Comparing the United States and Europe

A recent research report from Glassdoor Economic Research looks at workplace social benefits in five key areas and compares those benefits from nation to nation within the European Community.  For the purposes of the study, the analysis also compares these five workplace social policies in 15 European nations to the United States which is used as a benchmark.

The analysis looks at the following workplace policies:

1.) maternity and paternity leave.

2.) general parental leave.

3.) paid holiday allowance.

4.) paid sick leave.

5.) unemployment benefits.  

Obviously, governments do play a very important role in setting minimum workplace social policies since, given a choice, many companies would prefer to "streamline" the benefits that they offer.   Unless, of course, your office happens to be located on an upper floor and in one of the corners.

Let's dig into the data starting with maternity leave, followed by paid holiday allowance and paid sick leave.  

1.) Maternity Leave:  Here is a figure showing how paid maternity leave varies among the 15 European nations in the study and compares them to the United States keeping in mind that the statutory EU minimum is 14 weeks:

Both the United Kingdom and Ireland offer the most maternity leave at 52 and 42 weeks respectively.  The countries offering the least lengthy maternal leave include both Germany and Sweden who both offer a minimum of 14 weeks.  In terms of pay, mothers get 100 percent of earnings for their whole leave in Austria (16 weeks), Denmark (18 weeks), France (16 weeks), Germany (14 weeks), the Netherlands (16 weeks) and Spain (16 weeks).  By way of comparison, the United States has no general provision for paid maternity leave; that is left up to the discretion of the employer.  Under U.S. federal law, women are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  The United States is one of very few nations in the world (those in pink) that do not offer paid maternity leave as you can see on this map (note that Australia has changed its legislation which now includes 18 weeks of paid leave at minimum wage):

The U.S. ranks right up there with Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea when it comes to paying its new mothers.

2.) Paid Holiday Allowance:  Here is a figure that shows how paid holiday allowance varies within the 15 European nations in the study and compares them to the United States keeping in mind that paid holiday entitlement in the EU is set at a minimum of four weeks per year in addition to bank or statutory (aka public) holidays:

Citizens of Sweden, France and Denmark have the most annual leave at 25 working days and those of Italy, Greece, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland all have the minimum 20 days of paid holidays.  In terms of public holidays, workers in Spain have the most at 14 followed by Austria and 13, Italy and 12 and Sweden, Finland and Greece at 11.  Swiss workers have the least public holidays at four.  To compare this to the United States, American workers have no entitlement to paid holidays, rather, the number of paid vacation days is negotiated between workers and employers.  The average number of paid vacation days in the United States stands at ten, half of the legal minimum level of paid vacation days in Europe.  In the United States there is also no legal minimum for paid public holidays, however, these are offered by some employers with the average being six days per year.

3.) Sick Pay and Sick Leave:  Paid sick leave is most generous in the Netherlands where ill workers can be absent for up to 104 weeks and collect 70 percent of their salary for the entire period.  German workers can be absent for up to 78 weeks; they receive 100 percent of their earnings for the first six weeks and 70 percent for the remaining weeks.  The lowest sick leave allowance is in the United Kingdom where workers are given 28 weeks of sick leave and are paid £88 per week.  In comparison, in the United States, there is no statutory allowance for either sick leave or compensation while a worker is ill.

If we look at all five aspects of workplace social benefits among European nations and compare them to the United States, the U.S. comes out as the least generous in four of the policies including maternity entitlements, paternity entitlements, annual holiday allowance and sick leave.  I guess we just have to consider this aspect of the American workplace as part of the "you're damn lucky that you have a job at all" philosophy that is pervasive in America's job market of the second decade of the new millennium.

Again, this holds true unless you happen to spend your workday in an upper floor corner office.


  1. USA USA USA... We're #1 if you read the lists from right to left....

  2. The US has no vacation, no paid maternity and no sick days? this is perhaps the worst analysis I have ever seen. thanks for making it so transparent

    1. It's true. This analysis isn't comparing what people *actually* have, they're comparing what the governments of those respective nations require employees to have by law. In the US if an employer wants to give you no vacation, no paid maternity, and no sick days...they can. There is no *federal* law requiring them to do otherwise. In some cities/states there are laws that do add these requirements, but it is far from a majority.

      In fact, the average american worker gets 16 days of paid vacation a year...that's the *average*. The average US worker's vacation lasts 4 days from the same length, and only 25% of workers use all of their vacation time each year.

      The real problem isn't what we *get* though, it's that not everyone gets it. People living on minimum wage can't afford to miss a day of work to care for their sick kids. Service industry employees living paycheck to paycheck can't afford to get sick, meaning lost productivity because they spread their sickness to other employees when they show up to work instead of missing a day's wages. There is an economic and social cost to not having mandatory leave policies, which is why literally every other first world country has them.

  3. Figures don't lie but liars can figure.