Labor Law

Maternity and paternity leave in Spain

Learn about maternity and paternity leave in Spain, including how long it lasts, how to apply, and your rights upon returning to work.

Father with a baby in a sling standing in the kitchen, pouring some lemonade into a cup.
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Updated 23-5-2024

Spain’s parental leave laws are rooted in equality. Both maternity and paternity leave are fully paid for the same length of time and are equally applicable in cases of birth, adoption, and long-term foster care.

Maternity and paternity benefits in Spain begin when the baby enters the family and include paid and unpaid leave, flexible time off, and adjusted working schedules even into childhood.

For more information, this article outlines the following:

Spanish labor law

Among Spain’s labor laws designed to protect those who work in the country are anti-discrimination, minimum wage, workplace safety, job protection, paid leave, and temporary disability benefits.

Any job in Spain usually starts with a probationary period of three months, and you need to give at least 15 days’ notice if you plan to leave a job. Most disputes between employees and employers are resolved using mediators since Spain does not have labor courts.

Mother and baby lying on their sides during breastfeeding
Photo: Catalina Carvajal Herrera/Pexels

Spanish labor law guarantees parental leave, known as nacimiento y cuidado del menor (birth and care of a minor). Spain recognizes maternity and paternity leave as equal and includes them under the same law with no difference in the amount of leave or pay.

Spain’s parental leave is considered very high quality compared to other countries. In fact, in 2022, Spain ranked 13th among the best countries in the world for paid maternity leave.

How long is maternity leave in Spain?

Currently, maternity leave in Spain lasts 16 weeks for a single child. During this time, the mother receives 100% of her salary. Mothers get an additional two weeks if the baby has a disability, and for twins or triplets. Adoptive and long-term foster parents are also eligible for paid leave.

Maternity leave typically starts the day the baby comes into the family, however, biological mothers have the option to start leave four weeks before their due date.

In the case of high-risk pregnancies or expectant mothers with medical conditions, any necessary leave before the baby’s birth counts as sick leave. This means the mother’s employer pays 100% of whatever amount of time she needs to take before the birth, as recommended by a medical professional.

Once your baby is born, you can submit an online application for maternity leave in Spain. You must provide documentation, such as your ID and the child’s birth certificate. The company you work for will also have to verify that you work there and how long you have worked there.

How long is paternity leave in Spain?

In Spain, fathers have nearly the same options as mothers after a child is born, adopted, or fostered long term. The only difference is they cannot use benefits reserved specifically for biological mothers.

Fathers have the right to take 16 weeks of 100% paid leave for the birth, adoption, or long-term fostering of a child. Similar to mothers, they can choose to take this leave uninterrupted, intermittently, or with a part-time working schedule.

Can you share parental leave in Spain?

Unfortunately, paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave are non-transferable in Spain. This means that one parent cannot share some of their leave with the other parent.

A mother kisses her baby's forehead while working from home on a laptop
Photo: William Fortunato/Pexels

In the past, paid leave could be shared, but because both parents are now offered the same amount of time, they no longer have that option.

Unpaid maternity and paternity leave in Spain

Once your 16 weeks of parental leave is over, you have the option to apply for excedencia sin sueldo (unpaid parental leave). This allows parents to take leave from work for up to three years to care for their children and then return to the same employer.

Unpaid parental leave can be taken consecutively for the full three years, or intermittently. However, it is important to be aware that it is only available until the child turns three.

You have the right to a new period of leave for each new child. This means that if you have a baby within those three years, the first period of leave ends, and you start a new period of leave, for up to three years.

Your position can be held for up to a year. After this period, your employer is not required to hold your same position but can offer you a similar one. Therefore, it is a good idea to let them know about your plans as soon as possible and to keep an open line of communication with them during your time off.

If you decide that you want to extend your parental leave, you should let your employer know at least 15 days from the date that you were supposed to return to work.

If both parents work, only one of them can apply for extended unpaid leave. The other must either return to work or they lose the right for their position to be held.

Maternity and paternity leave for self-employed parents

If you are self-employed, or what the Spanish call an autónomo, you are entitled to maternity or paternity leave. However, there are a few differences.

For instance, you are eligible for 16 weeks of paid leave. However, you must have made social security contributions for a certain period, as follows:

  • For parents under the age of 21, there is no minimum contribution period required
  • Parents ages 21 to 25 must have contributed at least 90 days in the last 7 years prior to childbirth, or 180 days in their entire working life
  • Parents who are 26 or older must have contributed at least 180 days in the last seven years prior to childbirth, or 360 days in their entire working life
a father feeding his baby a bottle on his lap as he works on his laptop in his home office
Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

Freelancers are exempt from paying their monthly social security contributions during maternity or paternity leave.

The amount you will need to contribute each month is based on your reported income in the six months prior to leave, known as your base rate. Therefore, you can count on receiving amount equal to your estimated income during your paid parental leave.

Returning to self-employed work

Upon returning from maternity or paternity leave, freelancers can request an 80% discount on the monthly contribution requirement for up to 24 months. They are also eligible for a tax deduction of up to €1,200 per year until the child turns three. However, it is essential to note that freelancers do not qualify for excedencia sin sueldo.

It is important to remember to apply for maternity or paternity leave at least 15 days before the start date of your leave. You can complete and submit the application online.

Maternity and paternity leave for unemployed parents

Parents who are unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits in Spain can also apply for parental leave. The application is the same. However, they cannot receive unemployment benefits during this time, which will only resume once the parental leave ends. You have 15 days to reactivate your unemployment benefits once your parental leave ends.

When applying for parental leave, you must request a suspension of your unemployment benefits. The amount you will receive during parental leave is based on the amount you were receiving for the unemployment benefit.

If a parent still finds themself unemployed after their unemployment benefits run out, they can apply for subsidio extraordinario por desempleo (extraordinary unemployment subsidy). This financial assistance is available to individuals with family responsibilities. It enables families to receive €480 monthly for six months. Families that fall below the minimum vital income are eligible for it.

Returning to work in Spain

As mentioned, you can extend your maternity or paternity leave after the initial 16 weeks is over by applying for excedencia sin sueldo. However, remember that this is unpaid, and you have the right to hold your position for up to a year.

Alternatively, you can take the remaining leave by working only part-time after the mandatory six-week leave period.

Can you adjust your work schedule?

Until your child turns 12, you also have the option to reduce the number of hours you work. However, a reduction in hours will also mean a reduction in pay.

If you choose to do this, you must let your employer know your part-time schedule’s start and end date. An employer must accept your request to work fewer hours due to child-rearing responsibilities.

When you are ready to return to work, you must give your employer 15 days’ notice.

A closeup shot of a mother gently holding a baby in her arms
Photo: Kristina Paukshtite/Pexels

After returning to work, both parents can miss one hour for el cuidado del lactante (caring for a nursing baby). This is an hour that you are permitted to take off work each day, whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, during the first nine months of your baby’s life.

Once your child turns nine months old, you can still take this hour off, but it will be unpaid. You can continue doing this until the child turns one.

You should notify your employer in writing at least 15 days prior to beginning your modified schedule. Notably, they cannot deny this and must accommodate your schedule. If there are multiple births, you are able to take two hours off daily. Alternatively, you can wait for these hours to add up so you can take days off at a time. These are all arrangements that need to be made directly with your employer.

Parental support in Spain

You may qualify for family or child benefits in Spain, depending on your situation.

Families that earn below the ingreso mínimo vital (minimum vital income) can apply for this. You can check your eligibility with the minimum vital income simulator. The amount you will receive will be the difference between your actual income and the minimum vital income.

Recipients of this benefit with minors in their care are also eligible for a monthly supplement for each child. This is called the complemento de ayuda a la infancia. This child support supplement is between €57 and €115 for each child. The amount you will receive will depend on the age of the child.

Until the child turns three, parents are also eligible to receive a tax deduction of up to €1,200 a year for each child as long as they are not receiving the child support supplement. However, only one parent can claim this deduction.

There are also additional benefits for families with special circumstances, such as single-parent households or children with disabilities.

What to do if your employer refuses to grant you parental leave

Parental leave is the right of any worker in Spain. If you give proper notice, your employer cannot refuse to grant you leave or an adjusted work schedule. However, the employer must only grant one parental leave if both parents work at the same company.

A mother stands in the kitchen watching her young daughter playing at the dining table
Photo: Kamaji Ogino/Pexels

If you have a dispute with your employer, you can take this matter to a labor court. However, before doing so, you must attempt mediation. Each comunidad autonoma (autonomous community) in Spain has its own office for mediation services, free of charge. You can submit a request for mediation at your local office.

In more complex cases, it’s advisable to seek the assistance of a lawyer specializing in labor law in your area. If an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, your case will then be escalated to a labor court, where it will be heard before a judge.

Useful resources