Opportunities for fathers to work or study during the parental benefit period (TAS 234/2014, issued on 30 July 2014)
Opportunities for fathers to work or study during the parental benefit period
The Ombudsman for Equality has been contacted a number of times regarding the prerequisites of granting parental benefit. Fathers generally have not had the right to work or study during the parental benefit period. According to the provisions of the Health Insurance Act (1224/2004) which were in force in 2014, in general, fathers were not entitled to parental allowance unless they participated in childcare and were not gainfully employed. Only if the father was solely responsible for the child's care and gainfully employed would he have the right to parental allowance. The provisions of the Act did not require mothers to not engage in gainful employment in order to receive parental allowance. Mothers who were gainfully employed were granted the minimum parental allowance.
If both parents were gainfully employed, they could agree on which of the two would claim the parental allowance. If both parents had agreed with their employers on part-time work and cared for the child themselves, both had a simultaneous right to partial parental allowance.
The Ombudsman for Equality found that the grounds determining the right to parental allowance were different for fathers and mothers. In general, fathers were not entitled to the allowance while gainfully employed. Fathers and mothers were also treated differently with regard to full-time student status during the benefit period. In general, fathers who were full-time students were not entitled to parental allowance, whereas mothers were.
The Ombudsman for Equality issued a number of statements on said provisions. With regard to the prerequisites on the right to receive parental allowance, the Health Insurance Act placed men in an unfavourable position compared to women directly on the grounds of gender, which meets the definition of direct gender discrimination. According to the understanding of the Ombudsman for Equality, the provisions were problematic from the point of view of the prohibition of discrimination both by the Equality Act and the Non-Discrimination Act as well as the obligations on the promotion of equality.The Ombudsman requested that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health undertake to amend the Health Insurance Act in such a way that fathers are no longer in an unfavourable position compared to mothers based on gender with regard to the prerequisites of parental allowance.
In spring 2014, the government submitted a proposal to Parliament on the amendment of the Health Insurance Act and the act on the rehabilitation services and allowances provided by the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (laki Kansaneläkelaitoksen kuntoutusetuuksista ja kuntoutusrahaetuuksista) (Government Proposal 63/2014). The proposal also addressed the problem described above as part of the wider reform of the Health Insurance Act. As a result of the reform, fathers have the same right as mothers to parental allowance during employment and full-time study. Like mothers, fathers who are gainfully employed or studying full time are now entitled to the minimum parental allowance.
The Act on the Amendment of the Health Insurance Act (678/2014) was adopted on 22 July 2014 and entered into force on 1 January 2015.