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Professional, private and family life

Pregnant workers

Under EU legislation (Directive 92/85/EEC), pregnant workers, workers who have recently given birth and women who are breastfeeding are recognised as a specific risk group, and their health and safety are protected.

The rules also cover maternity leave and discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination on grounds of pregnancy is also covered by the legislation on equal treatment in employment and occupation.

All EU countries must ensure that the following rules are in place:

  • Women may not be obliged to perform night work during their pregnancy and for a period following childbirth (subject to submission of a medical certificate) - instead they should have the possibility of being transferred to daytime work, excused from work or given extended maternity leave.
  • All women are entitled to maternity leave for an uninterrupted period of at least 14 weeks before and/or after delivery (with at least two weeks before and/or after delivery). They are entitled to receive payment or an allowance during the period of leave at a rate at least equivalent to sick pay.
  • Pregnant workers may take time off work without loss of pay to attend ante-natal examinations if they have to take place during working hours.
  • Women may not be dismissed for reasons related to their condition from the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of their maternity leave. In the event of dismissal, the employer must give good grounds in writing. Such workers must be protected from the consequences of unlawful dismissal.
  • The continuity of employment rights relating to the employment contract - including the maintenance of a payment to, and/or entitlement to an adequate allowance for such workers - must be ensured.

Full text: Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding

Parental leave

EU law (Directive 2010/18/EU) sets out minimum requirements on parental leave and time off from work on grounds of force majeure. It is based on a framework agreement on parental leave concluded by the European Social Partners (BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC). It revises and repeals an earlier Directive on parental leave.

The directive aims to reconcile work and family life and to promote equal opportunities for men and women in the labour market. It sets out minimum requirements on parental leave for male and female workers, and related employment protection.

Under the new provisions of the directive:

  • male and female workers have individual entitlement to parental leave on the grounds of the birth or adoption of a child, enabling them to take care of the child for at least four months ; at least one of the four months cannot, in principle, be transferred to the other parent, i.e. it is reserved for each parent;
  • workers are protected from discrimination on the grounds of applying for or taking parental leave;
  • when returning from parental leave, workers must have the right to return to the same job or to an equivalent or similar job consistent with their employment contract or relationship;
  • they also have the right to request changes to their working hours for a set period; in considering such requests, employers must balance the needs of the workers and the company.

All EU countries must apply the new rules by 8 March 2012 at the latest unless they made use of the possibility to extend the implementation period by a maximum of one year, in which case the new rules must be applied as from 8 March2013.

The Commission announced a "New Start for Working Parents" in its Work Programme for 2016. This follows the publication of a Roadmap pdf Choose translations of the previous link on Work-Life Balance in August 2015  for the initiative ‘A new start to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families’, which will replace the 2008 Commission proposal to amend the Pregnant Workers Directive.

The objective for this new initiative is to modernise and adapt the current EU legal and policy framework to allow for working parents with children or those with dependent relatives to better balance caring and professional responsibilities, encourage a more equitable use of work-life balance policies between women and men, and to strengthen gender equality in the labour market.
A Social Partner consultation has been launched on 11 November 2015 and a consultation for the general public was launched on 18 November 2015.

Full text: Council Directive 2010/18/EU of 8 March 2010 implementing the revised Framework Agreement on parental leave concluded by BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC and repealing Directive 96/34/EC