It’s never nice for a child or their parent when a little one is ill, but families in Sweden benefit from generous policies allowing mums, dads, and caregivers time off when a child is unwell. Here’s what working parents should know about their rights.[contfnewc] [contfnewc]
Note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, temporary measures are set to be introduced to allow parents to receive VAB benefit without a doctor’s note, which is currently needed after seven days of sickness. The reasoning behind this is that it will reduce the burden on healthcare services and help limit the spread of any infection. Contact the Swedish Social Insurance Agency for the latest guidelines.
You cannot apply for VAB benefit if your child’s preschool or school closes, or if you choose to keep them at home because you are worried about them getting sick.
The Swedish welfare system has a generous attitude towards parents, with lengthy parental leave for newborns and flexibility with working hours as the child grows older. Another big bonus is a special benefit offering temporary parental leave when a child is ill.
This is known as Vård av Barn (VAB), and you’ll also hear it used as a verb, in Swedish (vabba) or among English-speakers in Sweden: “Mathias is vabbing today.” Employers cannot refuse you this time off if your child is unwell, but there are a few things you need to know about VAB and how it all works.
When can I take it?
You can take VAB to care for an unwell child if they are aged between eight months to the day before their 12th birthday.
As well as using VAB to stay at home while your child is ill, you can take it if you’re accompanying them to a doctor, dental or other health-related appointment. However, if you’ve already taken 60 VAB days in one year, you can only use the remaining days if the child is ill and needs to be looked after at home.
How much time can I take off?
It’s possible to take as many days as needed each year, up to a total of 120 per child. The average parent in Sweden takes seven to eight days per child per year.
The vast majority of parents take a full day off when they need to use VAB, but if you have flexible childcare options, you can choose to VAB only for part of the day: 12.5, 25, 50, or 75 percent of your usual working hours. This also applies if your child falls ill during the day and needs to be collected from school early, for example.
Will I get paid?Yes. You’re entitled to approximately 80 percent of your wage up to a maximum limit. You can calculate how much you’ll receive here (link in Swedish). This money doesn’t come from your employer but from the national insurance agency, so you need to apply specifically for the benefit.
What are the requirements?
The child you’re looking after must be aged between eight months and 12 years, and must live in Sweden or another EU country. The parent must also be insured in Sweden (this is usually the case automatically if you work in the country, but new arrivals should make sure to sign up with Försäkringskassan, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency which is responsible for administering VAB and other benefits).
If you need to be off work caring for your child for more than seven consecutive days, you’ll need to provide a note from a doctor or nurse, which can be sent to Försäkringskassan. This is seven days in total, not just working days, so weekends are included. If the child has a contagious illness and can’t go to the doctor’s, it’s possible to get a certificate issued over the phone.
From the start of 2019, Försäkringskassan has also increased checks on VAB benefit with the aim of cracking down on those who claim it fraudulently.
What if my child is aged under eight months or over 12?
For children under eight months, you are expected to take out parental leave benefits rather than VAB if you need time off to care for the child (for example, if the regular caregiver is sick). An exception is if a child under eight months old is hospitalized, in which case you can receive VAB.
Similarly, if one parent is already receiving parental leave benefits, it’s not generally possible for the other parent or caregiver to take VAB to care for another sick child in the family; it’s expected that the first parent should care for both. If you think that extenuating circumstances apply in your case, contact Försäkringskassan to speak to an advisor.
For children aged between 12 and 16, you can take VAB in certain circumstances, for example acute illness or a doctor’s appointment. In both cases, you’ll need a doctor’s statement, either confirming the child’s condition or, in the latter instance, confirming that it was necessary for the parent to accompany the child to the appointment.
There are a few cases in which it’s possible to take VAB even for a child outside that age range, particularly if a child aged under 18 has a serious illness; again, you should contact Försäkringskassan if you’re unsure whether that applies to you.
How do I apply for VAB?
VAB benefit is paid out by Sweden’s Försäkringskassan, rather than your employer, and the quickest way to receive the payment is to apply online or via the agency’s app.
In 2019, the way to apply for VAB changed in order to make it easier for parents.
Previously, it was necessary to register VAB on the first day you stayed at home, but as of January 1st, 2019, all you need to do is to apply for payment once you’re back at work again. This can be done on the Försäkringskassan website, or even via their app. Just remember to apply no later than 90 days after the first VAB day.
If you submit your claim before the 15th of the month, you should receive the money by the 25th (the usual payday in Sweden), but if you submit it after the 15th, you’ll receive it on the 25th of the following month.
How should parents split the time?
That’s up to you, but it’s not possible for both parents to take VAB benefit at the same time – even if more than one child is ill.
However, a good option for families with two parents working full time is to alternate VAB days and split the time between them. It’s also OK to work half the day each. The total 120-day allowance applies to each child, not each parent.
You can track VAB time online at the Försäkringskassan website, where a calendar records how many days have been taken each year and by whom.
If my child is ill during a planned holiday, can I swap it for VAB?
You can’t plan around illness, and swapping a week relaxing in the sun for a week cooped up at home with an unwell child is far from ideal.
If you had planned to travel within Sweden or another country in the EU, it’s often possible to exchange the holiday days for VAB if a child falls ill, meaning that you don’t lose out on your annual leave allowance. However, this isn’t a guaranteed right and it all depends on whether your employer approves the switch.
What if I work for myself?
You still have a right to take VAB if you’re self-employed or own your own company. Just follow the same steps by registering VAB with Försäkringskassan on the first day of the child’s illness. If you’re self-employed, the amount of VAB benefit you receive is linked to your SGI, just as with other benefits.
What if I’m unemployed?
If you are receiving job-seekers’ benefit (a-kassa), you can’t receive VAB benefit at the same time. However, if you are unable to receive your unemployment benefit because you’re at home looking after your child, you can claim VAB benefit instead.
What if I can’t miss work?
Most Swedish employers are very understanding about parents’ needs, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re unable to take the benefits you’re entitled to. However, sometimes it might not be convenient to miss time at work, for example if you have a crucial meeting or deadline. In some workplaces, employers will allow you to work from home or to bring a child with a non-contagious illness to work (this is known as ‘vobba‘ – a mix of ‘vabba‘ and ‘jobba‘), so that may be an option if your child doesn’t require constant care or to be taken to a hospital or doctor. But remember you’re not allowed to claim a salary and VAB at the same time.
Parents aren’t the only ones who can take VAB. Another person, such as a neighbour, relative or friend, is also allowed to claim the benefit if they need to look after a child. The right to do this is protected by Swedish law, so employers cannot deny it.
The first time a non-parent takes a VAB day, they need to register with Försäkringskassan. If the other person taking VAB does not have a family connection to the child (such as living with the child, being a foster parent or future adoptive parent, an ex-spouse of the parent, or someone else with legal custody of the child), they will need to call Försäkringskassan’s customer services on the first day of taking VAB, so that they’re registered as having a link to the child, and then they and the child’s parents will have to sign a confirmation form.
After doing that the first time, or if the carer already has a family connection to the child, all they need to do is to register VAB online or via the app.
What if my child is seriously ill?
In serious cases, where the 120-day allowance isn’t enough, parents can take an unlimited amount of time off to care for a severely unwell child. In some circumstances, it’s possible for both parents to be at home.
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