Most new parents in Slovakia know that the current legislation allows individuals to receive maternity benefit and work at the same time. When planning maternity, they count on it as one of the ways to improve their family budget during this period.
It is really possible to take paid maternity leave while working. The law only excludes the performance of work based on the employment contract from which the right to receive maternity benefit arises. It is even true that another employment relationship can be created with the same employer with whom the employee concluded the initial employment contract, but it must involve a different kind of work.
Consequently, there is an assumption that if, after the mother’s maternity leave, another person, most often the child’s father, takes care of the child, that person will continue to receive maternity benefit.
However, the Social Insurance Agency’s recent decision-making practice appears to contradict this assumption. In fact, the Social Insurance Agency will not provide maternity benefit if an insured person other than the mother has taken care of the child, even if it is the father and he has agreed this childcare arrangement with the mother. In these cases, the Social Insurance Agency argues that a father or other person who is taking care of a child cannot properly provide that care if he or she is working and earning another income at the same time.
The Social Insurance Agency’s position is based primarily on a very narrow interpretation of the provisions of the Social Insurance Act. It states:
‘Another insured person who takes caregiving responsibility for the child and who cares for the child is entitled to maternity benefit from the date of taking charge of the child’s care, within a period of 28 weeks from the date of first entitlement to maternity benefit.’
This means the Social Insurance Agency requires the father to provide care for the child himself, personally.
Opposition deputies Jozef Mihál and Simona Petrík responded to this development and at the end of May submitted an amendment to the Social Insurance Act to the National Council of the Slovak Republic. This amendment is very simple, but it seems likely to be effective. The amendment would change the wording of the condition relating to proper care of the child for entitlement to maternity benefit to extend it to an individual who ensures proper care for the child, for example by using the services of a childminder or nursery.
For comparison, if the National Council of the Slovak Republic approves the submitted amendment to the Act, the above provision will read as follows:
‘Another insured person who takes caregiving responsibility for the child and who ensures proper care for the child is entitled to maternity benefit from the date of taking of taking charge of the child’s care within a period of 28 weeks after first entitlement to maternity benefit.’
We believe that if the National Council of the Slovak Republic approves the amendment, it would strengthen legal certainty for young families, help parents with small children to secure improved social status and, last but not least, increase the employment of women with parental responsibilities. Now we must wait for the outcome of the legislative process. The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family is also aware of the problem: it is analysing the situation and plans to come up with a solution.
We propose using the same formulation as in the Parental Contribution Act, meaning that if the conditions for entitlement to parental benefit are met, there is no legitimate reason not to grant maternity benefit, where appropriate.