As you may already know, I’ve had a lot of red tape to get through in my life in Poland. From residence cards, to getting married, to buying a house, it’s been tough but worth it. Now I’m caught up in a new bureaucratic nightmare, which started just days before the birth of my second child – this time with ZUS. Here we go again.
One things I’ve always thought was brilliant about Poland is their policy on maternity leave. For mothers, it’s an absolute godsend. Those working on full-time work contracts receive their full salary for 6 months and 60% for another 6 months, if they choose to continue their leave. That’s a whole year of social security benefits, making it possible to stay home with your baby during those most important first months, if you so choose. Women in America may get some kind of maternity leave from their companies, but it doesn’t come anywhere near what we have in Poland, and it’s definitely not guaranteed by the State.
For those of us with our own businesses, we are paid benefits which amount to the average of your ZUS (Polish social security administration) payments from the 12 months before giving birth. This amount may also be increased if you choose to pay higher payments during that time. That is your right. However, it seems that nowadays, doing so may put you at risk. Currently, each woman with her own business who goes on L4 (sick leave) or maternity leave, receives a letter from ZUS asking for documents proving that the company she claims to lead is legitimate, or in other words, proving that her company isn’t “fikcyna”, as they call it, meaning “fictitious”.
There’s nothing wrong with an audit – as a business owner you could expect such a thing – but this “pismo”, according to the experience of various other women in similar situations, seems to be a pretext to check that you haven’t worked while on sick leave, perhaps during the current one or previous ones, and to use that against you in order not to pay your sick leave or maternity leave benefits at all. I, for instance, received my letter 2 weeks before giving birth. How much pressure and stress do you think that put on my family right before such a momentous event in our lives? A time when we need to be calm and save our energy for harder times to come.
Considering women in this situation aren’t working and have plenty of stress in connection with a new baby, this not only adds considerable stress (of the financial nature for sure) to their lives, but is discriminatory and unethical, if you ask me. Not only that, it’s incredibly ironic that you’re not supposed to be working during this period, yet collecting all the documents and things they require and dealing with the whole situation gives you much more work and stress than your normal job! Luckily, I had my husband and my proxy to help me with that, but not everyone has that kind of support and not everyone can afford a lawyer.
I understand that the government wants to weed out those who are only pretending to run businesses, however, it seems that they could very easily check which businesses may potentially be fictitious instead of immediately and – for an indefinite period of time – barring each woman from receiving her social security until they decide she’s innocent. That’s how this feels – like you’re a criminal – but instead of being innocent until proven guilty, you’re guilty until proven innocent, after potentially months or years of fighting with the system, often ending in court cases. We’re very lucky as my case was quickly resolved. I wouldn’t say it was easily resolved as we hired a lawyer to help us with everything, but there is hope. Not all cases end up in court!
Overall, like I said before, I was always so pleased about maternity leave in Poland, and I always brag to my American friends about the help that mothers in Poland receive from the country. Now I feel greatly let down by the country I’ve come to love living in and have called my home for nearly 10 years. I truly hope something will be done to turn this situation around for all female entrepreneurs and workers in Poland.
If you or anyone you know have had similar experiences, let us know in the comments so we can support each other through this. Also, I highly recommend joining the group on Facebook Grupa Ruch Społeczny Kobiety na DG kontra ZUS, as you can find many absurd stories from other women around Poland, but also ask any question you may have about the subject and receive some assistance.