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Maternity rights are granted by laws that typically require employers to provide time off to new mothers, along with certain other guarantees. Not every country confers the same maternity rights, because some offer substantial amounts of paid time off and others provide none at all. The same laws that result in maternity rights sometimes also allow for paternity or adoption leave. Other rights that these laws often confer can prevent a woman from being fired for becoming pregnant, can require a company to suspend her with full pay if her job is dangerous or hazardous to her health during pregnancy or can provide mandatory health and dental coverage.
Most countries have some type of maternity rights laws, though the specifics can vary widely from one location to another. The main right that is often associated with pregnancy is frequently referred to as maternity leave, which is time off that surrounds the birth of a child. Some countries require each company to provide paid time off to new mothers, either at their current salary level or some portion of it. Other countries have a public fund to pay a portion of each new mother's salary. A few countries, such as the United States, mandate that employers provide maternity leave but do not require that new mothers be paid during their time off.
The same laws that provide maternity leave often allow for paternity or adoption leave as well. Paternity leave refers to the father of a child taking time off before or after the birth, and adoption leave can offer a guarantee of time off to help facilitate the often-complicated adoption process. Some countries allow a father or grandfather to take paternity leave in the place of the mother, in which case he might receive the same benefits that the mother would have received. Most countries offer less time for paternity leave than they do maternity leave. Fathers are also less likely than mothers to receive paid time off surrounding the birth of a child.
In addition to time off from work, maternity rights often involve other important protections as well. Many maternity rights laws prevent a woman from being fired if she becomes pregnant or will require her employer to reinstate her at her previous level of pay when she returns to work. The company can also be required to provide free medical and dental care, or a public fund might be established for that purpose. In some countries, these laws do not apply to companies that have very few employees.