I’M OFFICIALLY ON MATERNITY LEAVE! And I’m celebrating by laying on my couch, sifting through baby websites and reading more about maternity leave in Belgium. I’d love to share the information I’ve gathered with you!
(I’ve finished my last week of work, filled out and handed in my paperwork to my insurance company, but haven’t heard anything back yet – so I will update this as I go along and get more information from them!)
HOW IT WORKS…
Let me give you a run-down of maternity leave in Belgium (from what I understand of it) along with some resources I’ve gathered (which you can find throughout this post and a full list at the bottom.)
- Both mother and father are usually given the option to take some (paid) leave, and the length of that leave is determined by what kind of work you do. The father is permitted to TEN DAYS of Paternity Leave. (Read more here.) The 3 first days are paid 100% by the employer
The 7 following days are paid for by the social security for an amount of 82% of your gross monthly remuneration (read more here.)
- There are different KINDS of leave you may be entitled to (read more here. Or here). Maternity leave happens both before and a little after the baby is born. Parental leave (also referred to as sick-leave, and is usually 4 months) can happen anytime between your child’s birth and your child’s twelfth birthday. Taking this leave may effect your holiday/vacation days in the following year. (This leave is called OUDERSCHAPSVERLOF, and you can find more information here).
- USUALLY (if you have a desk job where there is no physical strain or stress), you will work until one week before your due date. However, in a lot of cases (due to accumulated vacation days and flexible work rules), women take more time before baby is born.
- 15 weeks is the general time allotted for maternity leave in Belgium for a single child birth, 19 weeks is the general time allotted for a multiples birth (read more here).
- If you are self-employed, your paid maternity time would be around 8 weeks (read more here.)
- Every workplace, every situation will be different depending on the kind of work you do. For instance, a friend of mine (who works with chemicals) was mandated to take her leave as soon as she found out she was pregnant, because of the risk the chemicals pose to the unborn baby.
- It is MANDATORY that you take 8 (of your allotted 15) weeks AFTER BABY IS BORN (read more here.)
- Adoptive leave (when you adopt a child) is also possible (read more here. Or here.)
MY MATERNITY LEAVE STORY…
For those of you who don’t know, for the last 2 years I’ve worked at a domestic cleaning service in the small town where we live. Because of the physical nature of this work, my maternity leave is mandated to start 3 months prior to the due date of our child.
I have NO problem with this. I was feeling unhappy with my job when I found out I was pregnant, and I’ve since decided not to return to the work after our son is born in December. Ideally, I’d love to spend the first year with the baby not working, but we will see what happens!
For now, I am focused on relaxing as much as I can and getting our house in order before December when everything changes.
Okay, so this isn’t a one situation fits all kind of thing (nothing really is, in pregnancy) – but I will give you a run down of how my maternity leave situation worked. There were mistakes made (by me and by my bosses), but everything turned out okay, and I learned a few valuable lessons for my next pregnancy.
When I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t hold it in, so I ended up telling everyone (including my boss) when I was around 2.5 months along. TELLING MY BOSS I WAS PREGNANT EARLY WAS A REALLY, REALLY GREAT IDEA – because the process to your maternity leave will most likely be a long one.
The FIRST STEP
after telling me boss, was my boss getting in touch with the doctor that was mandated for the company. Usually this needs to happen, but not in all cases. I then had to meet with this doctor and provide them with my blood work (proving I was pregnant) and answering some basic health questions.
At this meeting with the work doctor, I was given a few papers. One of the papers stated that, on September 20 (3 months exactly before my due date) I was to stop working and be put on paid leave. The other, because of what my blood work showed, was a paper saying I had permission to decline work in homes with children under the age of 6 (due to a sickness that is dangerous to my unborn baby, that younger children can carry that I’d never had before, meaning I was at a heightened risk).
THIS WAS WHERE I RAN INTO SOME TROUBLE…
and this is why it’s so important for you to know your rights. My boss (and her boss) had a little issue with that second paper. They both said that they had never heard of this “no working in homes with children under the age of 6” before and wanted to do some checking around. So, because I was naive and didn’t want to cause a fuss, I continued to work in these homes (even though I had a doctors note clearly stating I shouldn’t.)
—–Let me explain a little more: the illness (often referred to as Fifths Disease) is commonly transmitted around in children under the age of 6. I did not have the specific antibodies in my blood to defend against this disease, and since children rarely show symptoms if they are just carriers of the disease, the doctor recommended I limit my contact with this age group of children. Because my work can’t LEGALLY make me work in homes where there is ANY risk to my pregnancy (no matter how small), I really shouldn’t have been working in these places. —–
This was my bad. I should have stuck up for myself more, because I honestly was uncomfortable doing it. At this point, yes, I hated my job and couldn’t wait for my maternity leave to start. This may have been clouding my judgement a little, I admit – but I was also a first time mom and wanted to follow the doctors orders! And those orders were pretty specific – to stay out of these homes because of a risk to my pregnancy. No matter how small that risk was, I didn’t want to take it, but I did anyways. (Obviously, everything in my pregnancy turned out fine.)
For weeks, I heard nothing from my boss or my boss’ boss, so I continued to do this work. Then, by the time they finally agreed to it, I was 20 weeks into my pregnancy when the risk of this sickness to the baby was significantly lower (according to the doctor). At this point I had only a few weeks left before my maternity leave started, and I also had little to no clients at that time, so I (again) didn’t make a fuss about it and worked in these homes anyways.
FILLING IN ALL THE PAPER WORK FOR MY MATERNITY LEAVE WAS A HANDFUL…
to say the least. First, your work doctor will give you papers that your boss needs to sign off on (stating when your maternity leave will start and some other information about your pay).
Once your boss signs these papers, send them to your insurance company as soon as you can.
Within a few weeks, your insurance company will know you’re pregnant and will be taking maternity leave soon. They will send you back some more documents (a bunch, actually). These documents consist mostly of some questionnaires about your work, documents you need to keep to be re-instated at work after your leave has finished, and some instructions on what to do from there.
This pile of papers looks daunting, but I suggest perhaps making a meeting with your boss and filling them out together – because some of the questions are confusing (even to someone who is a native Dutch speaker!) and it’s just easier to make sure they are filled in properly.
OTHER THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MATERNITY LEAVE IN BELGIUM:
- Your rights (and how they vary depending on what kind of work you do).
This was a bit of a pleasant shock for me – I had no idea that, because my job was physical labour, I not only COULD take maternity leave earlier than most, but I am actually mandated to stay at home 3 months prior to the baby’s due date. (Because lugging a vacuum everywhere at 8 months pregnant isn’t easy!)
- There will be a ton of paperwork – and it’s all fairly important. (So I highly suggest you create a binder, folder, or drawer where you keep everything. From doctors notes to the pile of maternity leave papers you get from your insurance company – losing any one of these documents is going to make things a lot harder.
- You can ride the train FIRST CLASS for the price of a second class ticket. Okay, so this probably isn’t like groundbreaking news (nor does it really have a lot to do with maternity leave), but it’s really cool and most women don’t actually know about it. You get these cards from your OB/GYN that she will (when you’re 6 months along) fill out. Some of them are for medical things like physio therapy, but one of them gets you a first class seat on the Belgian train system! Just show this card with your ticket and BAM – first class!
SOME PREGNANCY’/MATERNITY LEAVE IN BELGIUM RESOURCES:
You can read more on my first/second trimesters of pregnancy in Belgium HERE.