Parental leave


Parental leave is an individual right, determined by Member States and/or the social partners, that allows workers to take a certain number of months’ leave on the birth or adoption of a child, to be taken before the child reaches a specified age.

Background and status

The above definition is contained in the 1996 framework agreement on parental leave, which was the first framework agreement concluded by the European social partners BusinessEurope, CEEP and ETUC, in accordance with the European social procedure outlined in Articles 154 and 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The text of the agreement is included as an annex to Council Directive 96/34/EC.

The framework agreement provides an outline of the general principles to be implemented by Member States on parents’ rights to leave in the case of pregnancy and maternity, childcare and family emergencies. It stipulates a minimum of three months’ leave and that the right to parental leave is ‘granted on a non-transferable basis’ – that is, neither parent may relinquish their right to the other (Clause 2(2)). The conditions of access and detailed rules (including whether leave is to be on a full- or part-time basis) are to ‘be defined by law and/or collective agreement in the Member States’ (Article 2(3)).

In accordance with national legislation, collective agreements and/or practice, the agreement also allows Member States and/or the social partners to take the necessary measures to allow workers to take time off from work for unforeseeable reasons due to a family emergency in the event of sickness or accident, if they necessitate the immediate presence of the worker (termed ‘force majeure’ leave).

On 18 June 2009, the European social partners concluded an agreement revising the 1996 framework agreement, the first revision of any agreement concluded under the European social procedure. [1] The revised framework agreement applies to all workers with an employment contract or an employment relationship as defined by law. It also applies to adoptive parents. The agreement provides for an increase in the amount of parental leave from the initial three months to four and gives workers the right to request flexible working when returning from parental leave. Furthermore, it calls on Member States to establish the period of notice that workers should give in exercising their right to parental leave. Finally, it makes part of the leave non-transferable to encourage ‘a more equal take-up of leave by both parents’. The agreement was implemented through Council Directive 2010/18/EU.

In November 2015, the European Commission launched a first-phase consultation of social partners on a ‘new start’ for work–life balance in the framework of Article 154 of the TFEU. [2] In the second consultation document, published on 12 July 2016, the Commission asked the social partners if they wished to negotiate an update to their agreement on parental leave, in particular regarding the type of leave (full time, part time or in one or more blocks), the level of allowance payable and the duration of payment, as well as the length of the non-transferable period and the overall length of leave. [3]

However, as the social partners did not agree to negotiate, the European Commission proposed a directive in April 2017 repealing Directive 2010/18 on parental leave. The employer organisation BusinessEurope strongly disapproved of the proposal, stating that it was:

unacceptable and in contradiction with the spirit of the EU Treaty which guarantees that social partners agreements can only be modified by the signatories themselves. Such a move will severely damage the confidence of the employers in the value of negotiating legally binding agreements in the future. [4]

In contrast, the ETUC welcomed the proposal.

On 24 January 2019, within the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament agreed to adopt a proposal for a directive on work–life balance for parents and carers. According to the new directive, while parental leave still stands at a minimum of four months, two of these months may now be transferred to the other parent and will be paid, in order to encourage uptake from men. This individual right to parental leave of four months must still be taken before the child reaches a specified age (a maximum of eight years), to be set by each Member State or by collective agreement. Each Member State is able to make ‘the right to parental leave subject to a period of work qualification or to a length of service qualification, which shall not exceed one year’. Employees will also be able to request flexible uptake, which is also left to Member States to define. In such cases, employers are required to consider and respond to such requests, ‘taking into account the needs of both the employer and the worker.’

In February 2019, Eurofound published a report that presents the national statistics on the uptake of family-related leave by fathers over time across Member States and Norway. [5]

Related dictionary terms

BusinessEurope CEEP childcare ETUC framework agreements maternity leave pregnancy and maternity social pillar work–life balance directive.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


  1. ^ ETUC (2009), Framework agreement on parental leave (revised) , 18 June.
  2. ^ European Commission (2015), First phase Consultation of the Social Partners on a 'New Start' for Work–Life Balance , 11 November.
  3. ^ European Commission (2016), Consultation document: Second-stage consultation of the social partners at European level under Article 154 TFEU on possible action addressing the challenges of work–life balance faced by working parents and caregivers , 12 July.
  4. ^ BusinessEurope (2017), European Pillar of Social Rights – right aims, wrong approach , 25 April.
  5. ^ Eurofound (2019), Parental and paternity leave – Uptake by fathers , 7 February.

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