Sweden is famous for a healthy work-life balance, and a part of that is enjoying your days off work. These are some important terms to keep track of.
Glossary: Time off work
Röd dag | “red days”
Some days are called ‘red’ because they are traditionally printed in red in calendars. Red days include all Sundays and national holidays, such as Christmas day, Easter Monday and Ascension Thursday. If you work in an office job, you are not required to work on red days (but this doesn’t affect your pay), and if you work shifts in sectors such as healthcare or retail, you will most likely be paid extra, according to your collective agreement.
Semester | holidays/vacation
Semester is a false friend and means ‘holiday’ in Swedish, that is holiday from work, not from school. A school holiday is called lov.
You are entitled to at least five weeks of paid holiday each year, unless stated otherwise (and more) in your collective agreement. Most Swedes take their full pot of holidays during the summer months, and there may be some requirements for taking at least some part of your holiday during this period. Although if not required, it may be a good idea to follow the seasonal rhythm of your co-workers, to network, and to
Be prepared to apply for your holidays months in advance. Likewise, your childcare provider will ask you to state the dates for your upcoming holidays several months in advance. Legally speaking, your employer can ask you to change your holiday days, if there is an emergency, but in that case they may have to reimburse you for travel expenses.
Helg | weekend (or sometimes ‘holiday’)
This means weekend, most of the time. Sometimes helg means holiday, like Christamas or new year. If you have an office job, you are off work Saturdays and Sundays. In other sectors, you are most likely paid more for unsocial working hours, this is called OB-tillägg. If you don’t work during the weekend, you are not expected to take work phone calls or answer emails, although you are likely to have one or two colleagues who still do so.
Sjukanmälan | Calling in sick
If you are sick and can’t make it to work, you need to call in sick: sjukanmälan.
In normal circumstances, you are not paid the first day off, this is called karensdag. There may however be exceptions in this system, if there is, for example, an ongoing pandemic or other unusual event.
After having been off sick for a week, you will need to provide your employer with a doctor’s certificate.
Your employer pays 80% of your salary for the first two weeks you are off sick. There is no limit on how many days you can be off sick.
Sjukskrivning | Sick leave
If you are off sick for more than two weeks, it is not your employer’s responsibility to pay you, but Försäkringskassan. They will also pay you 80% of your salary, and they will need a doctor’s certificate for this. Long sick leave like this, sjukskrivning, can be full time and part time, and if you have been off for a long period of time, your doctor and you will formulate a plan on how you will go back to work, perhaps by working part-time in the beginning.
Karensdag | Qualifying day
The first day when you are off sick is called karensdag, and during this day, you will not be paid.
ATL (Arbetstidslagen) | Working Hours Act
Arbetstidsagen, ATL, working hours act, is what states how much you can work. The Working Hours Act regulates how much an employer is allowed to work during a 24-hour period, a week and a year. For example, you can not work more than 40 hours per week, those 40 hours must be accompanied by a period of 36 consecutive hours of. During a period of 24 hours, you are entitled to eleven consecutive hours of rest between work shifts. You may not work more than 50 hours of overtime per month and not more than 200 hours per year.
Your work hours are stated in your employment contract or collective agreement. It is likely that your employer uses flextid meaning that you can decide your work hours yourself, as long as you work your stated 40 hours (if full time) per week, get things done, and attend the meetings you are invited to. Your lunch break is not included in your work hours, so if you work eight hours per day and take a 30-minute lunch break and two 15-minute fika breaks, you will have to spend nine hours at work. Dependent on the type of work you do, it may be possible to work from home. Check with your employer what is required at your workplace.
Tjänstledighet | Leave of absence
You have the right to take a leave of absence if you have been employed for more than six months and if the intention of your leave of absence is to study or to start your own business.
You can apply also otherwise, but your employer has the right to decline.
Föräldraledighet | Parental leave
For each child that is born, parents (or caregivers) are given a total of 480 days of parental leave to share between them. Different rules apply for the birth of multiples (twins and triplets). Most parents share this time over the first 12-18 months after their baby has been born, often taking a few months each.
You will need to tell your employer two months in advance if you are planning to take parental leave, and you can do so up to three times a year.
Unless you are the parent of multiples, you can’t take parental leave at the same time for more than two weeks. Most parents use this shared time right after the baby is born.
VAB (Vård av barn) | Care of [sick] child
If your child is sick and can’t attend school, preschool or nursery, you can stay at home from work to take care of them. This is called VAB, and you are reimbursed 80% of your salary through Försäkringskassan (ceilings apply). There is no karensdag for VAB but you will ll need a doctor’s certificate if you are on VAB for more than a week. You can’t work when you’re on VAB, this counts as fraud as Försäkringskassan would be paying you to work for your employer. If, however, you are able to work from home when taking care of your child, full or part time, you can agree to do this with your employer, but remember this is not something you can be forced to do.
Övertid | Overtime
Overtime. Your collective agreement (or employment contract) will state the conditions for overtime. Usually, working overtime is not encouraged in Sweden, and therefore not financially compensated for. Sometimes a system called komptid is used, meaning that you compensate for the overtime you work by taking the equivalent time off at a later date. Time management is seen as an important skill in Sweden, and good time management skills mean you prioritize your tasks to avoid overtime. Someone who stays late at night at work is not considered loyal but someone who can’t manage their time.
Swedish workplaces are full of working parents — mothers and fathers. Childcare in Sweden is heavily subsidized by the state, meaning few people rely on nannies or other private solutions. Some may get help from relatives, but this is not something given. This means that your colleagues with children will need to adapt their work schedules according to their childcare provider. Even when there’s a deadline or an urgency, most working parents (again, this applies to all genders) will still need to leave work to pick up their children on time. The same principle applies when a child is sick; one of the parents needs to stay at home taking care of their child. This is likely to impact your planning; do allow for margins. Likewise, if that working parent is yourself, your coworkers and employers will be understanding if you need to take care of such emergencies, but it is still very important you communicate your absence and your plans clearly and well in advance.