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The U.S. Lags Behind Europe in Workplace Benefits and Paid Leave; Glassdoor Economic Research

A new report from Glassdoor Economic Research reveals the United States is the least generous when it comes to providing workers with social workplace benefits and paid time off, compared to European countries. Conducted in cooperation with London-based Llewellyn Consulting, the report reveals a stark contrast between the workplace benefits offered in select European countries compared to those offered by the U.S. government at the federal level.

The report, titled, Which Countries in Europe Offer Fairest Paid Leave and Unemployment Benefits?, ranks 14 European countries and the United States, based on six key measures: paid maternity leave, paid paternity leave, general parental leave, paid holiday allowances, paid sick leave and unemployment benefits. When ranked in order, the report finds the European countries offering the most generous workplace and welfare benefits overall are Denmark, France and Spain. The U.K., Switzerland and Ireland are the least generous European countries, with the U.S. lagging further behind.

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The report comes at a time when workplace benefits and perks are top of mind for job seekers. A recent Glassdoor survey found that nearly four in five (79 percent) U.S. employees report they would prefer new or additional benefits or perks over a pay increase. Underscoring the importance of benefits and perks that are often mandated by European countries, the benefits employees would prefer to a pay raise are: healthcare insurance (40 percent); vacation/paid time off (37 percent); performance bonus (35 percent); paid sick days (32 percent); 401(k) plan, retirement plan and/or pension (31 percent).

Parental Leave

There is no mandated paid maternity or paternity leave in the U.S. New birth mothers may take advantage of short-term disability benefits offered at the state or federal level. As part of total compensation packages, many employers like Netflix offer generous paid maternity and paternity leave to new parents. Conversely, maternity leave in all European Union (EU) countries is a mandated minimum of 14 weeks, or 3.5 months, though the time off and pay offered varies considerably. The U.K. offers the longest time off for new mothers at 52 weeks, 39 of which are paid at 90 percent of previous earnings for the first six weeks and the remainder at up to £140 a week. Like the U.S., paternity leave is unregulated in the EU and entitlements vary widely.

In the EU, general parental leave is different from maternity and paternity leave that new birth parents receive and is regulated. EU legislation states that parents have the right to take time off work to care for children up to eight years old for a minimum of four months (16 weeks). The amount of time workers can take parental leave and the pay offered during that time varies by country. France and Germany offer the most time off at three years (156 weeks).

In the U.S., under the Family and Medical Leave Act, new parents are entitled to 12 weeks (unpaid) per parent, which includes new birth mothers and fathers as well as new adoptive parents.1 By ranking, Switzerland (which is not a member of the EU) comes after the U.S. with the least generous parental leave – it offers no parental leave at all.

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Paid Time Off and Sick Leave

At the federal level, there is no statutory entitlement in the U.S. for paid time off (PTO) or paid sick leave. Many employers offer PTO as part of the total compensation package and use PTO as a recruiting and retention tool. According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the average number of paid vacation days for U.S. workers is 10 days and average number of paid public holidays is six days.

In the EU, paid holiday entitlement is a minimum of 20 days, or four weeks per year, not including bank holidays. Many countries are more generous: Sweden, France and Denmark offer 25 days, or five weeks, of paid vacation for full-time workers. In terms of sick leave, the Netherlands is the most generous – workers can take up to two years of sick leave while receiving 70 percent of their salary.

Unemployment

With the U.S. unemployment rate at an eight-year low, fewer Americans are out of work than in recent years. Unemployment benefits are governed by U.S. states, and payments are generally between 40 and 50 percent of prior earnings for up to 26 weeks, depending on the individual state. The U.S. falls in the bottom three when it comes to unemployment benefits. The least generous countries for unemployment benefits are the U.K., Ireland and the U.S. Denmark has the most generous policy, paying 90 percent of previous earnings for up to two years.

See the full Glassdoor Economic Research report, Which Countries in Europe Offer the Fairest Paid Leave and Unemployment?, including analysis of unemployment benefits, paid leave, sick pay, and maternity and paternity leave. Read more about this report from Glassdoor’s Chief Economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain on the Glassdoor Economic Research blog.

For more information about the specific benefits offered by individual companies or to anonymously share and review the benefits offered by an employer, visit Glassdoor’s Benefits Reviews.

1This study is based on the OCED Family Database classifications of all parental leave policies. The U.S. parental leave policy is under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which also allows unpaid leave for reasons other than child birth, such as caring for sick non-infant children, spouses or elderly parents, and therefore is classified as “general parental leave” rather than “maternity leave” or “paternity leave.”