Work-life balance

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The European Commission has published details of its new initiative to address the challenges of working parents and work-life balance.

The initiative takes into account the developments in society over the past decade in order to enable parents and other people with caring responsibilities to better balance their work and family lives.

Higher minimum standards

The initiative sets a number of new or higher minimum standards for parental, paternity and carers' leave, through a series of legislative and non-legislative measures. The proposals are intended in particular to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men, which will benefit children and help increase women's participation in the labour market.

Legislative measures

The initiative aims to modernise the existing EU legal framework in the area of family-related leave and flexible working arrangements. The proposal for a Directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers includes:

  • The introduction of paternity leave. Fathers/second parents will be able to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child, compensated at least at the level of sick pay.
  • The strengthening of parental leave by making the four months period compensated at a minimum of sick pay level and non-transferable from a parent to another. Parents will also have the right to request to take leave in a flexible way (part-time or in a piecemeal way) and the age of the child up to which parents can take leave will be increased from 8 to 12 years old.
  • The introduction of carers' leave for workers caring for seriously ill or dependent relatives. Working carers will be able to take five days per year, compensated at least at sick pay level.
  • The extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements (reduced working hours, flexible working hours and flexibility in place of work) to all working parents of children up to age 12 and carers with dependent relatives.

Non-legislative measures

In order to complement the legislative proposal, the initiative contains a set of non-legislative measures to support member states in addressing the challenges of working parents and work-life balance. These include:

  • ensuring protection against discrimination and dismissal for parents (including pregnant women and workers coming back from a leave) and carers
  • encouraging a gender-balanced use of family-related leaves and flexible working arrangements
  • making better use of European funds to improve long-term and childcare services
  • removing economic disincentives for second earners which prevent women from accessing the labour market or working full-time. 

Proposed benefits of new initiative

It is expected that this initiative will reap benefits for individuals, companies and the wider society.

Parents and carers will profit from better work-life balance and the foreseen increase in women in employment, their higher earnings and career progression will positively impact individuals and their families' economic prosperity, social inclusion and health.

Companies will benefit from a wider talent pool and a more motivated and productive labour force, as well as a lower level of absence. The rise in female employment will also contribute in addressing the challenge of demographic ageing and ensuring the financial stability of member states.

The NHS European Office will examine the proposals carefully to see how they could affect NHS employees and employers.


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