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PARENTING

How does VAB work? Getting time off work when your child is sick

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.

A parent vabbing - looking after his sick daugher
Read on to find out what assistance parents are entitled to in Sweden, and how to claim it. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

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 Försäkringskassan, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, so you need to apply specifically for the benefit.


Photo: Gorm Kallestad/SCANPIX NORGE/SCANPIX

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 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 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 hospitalised, 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.


Photo: Stefan Bladh/SvD/TT

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 when you’re back at work again. 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.

Article first written in March 2018 and updated in May 2022.

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For members

FAMILY

How to use all your parental leave in Sweden before it expires

The parents of fully 70 percent of children in Sweden fail to take all the parental leave available to them before it expires. But there are some tricks to make sure you use it all.

two parents and two children in a car
You could save some parental leave days to use for a long holiday – but be careful so that they don't expire. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

“The Swedish Social Insurance Agency has decided that you will not receive child benefit for Finn from December 24th to January 8th,” read the letter that dropped into my secure digital mailbox over Christmas. 

My son turned eight on December 23rd, and as he was born just a week before a new more generous policy became valid in Sweden, that marked the end of our eligibility for child leave.

And just as had happened with his elder sister, we had let his leave expire with more than a month of leave yet to claim.

It turns out, we are far from alone.

The parents of fully 72 percent of the children born in Sweden in 2010 failed to claim all of their shared 480 days of parental leave by the time they expired in 2018, according to the latest statistics from the Social Insurance Agency. On average, parents in Sweden failed to claim about a month, but 21 percent of parents had, like us, failed to claim more than 60 days.

In total, that amounted to 1.4 billion kronor ($154.4 million) in unclaimed benefits, and according to an analysis by the agency, it was those with the lowest incomes who had the most days left over.

A graph showing how many days of parental leave was not claimed for children born in 2010, divided up by (from left) low-income, mid-income and high-income families. The dark green shows days paid at 80 percent of the salary (sjukpenningnivå) and the light green the lowest-paid days (lägstanivå, 180 kronor a day). Photo: Försäkringskassan

A change in the rules since my son was born has made using your days quite a bit easier. Parents of children born after January 1st in 2014 (a week after my son), can now continue to take out leave until their children’s 12th birthday.

But be aware that all but 96 of these days expire when the child turns four, so the race is still on.

If you want to understand how parental leave in Sweden works, here’s The Local’s detailed guide to how the system works

But to avoid other foreigners in Sweden suffering the same disappointment as I did, keep scrolling for some tips for how to make sure you use all that leave.

Take leave together 

Swedish rules allow both parents to take leave at the same time. In the first few months, this can really take the pressure off the mother, allowing her partner to take over while she makes up for lost sleep, or takes a precious hour or so to herself. 

The rules allow each couple to claim a maximum of 30 of these so-called dubbeldagar or “double days”, which taken together will use up 60 days of leave. 

These days cannot be taken from the 90 reservdagar, or “reserve days”, which are tied to each parent to prevent fathers from taking out days at the same time as leaving the mother to do all the actual childcare. They also can only be taken before the child is one year old. 

Claim leave for ordinary holidays 

My mistake was to see parental leave as something to take only when I was off work specifically to look after my children. In fact, you can take it out any time you are not actually working: when you take time off over Christmas, Easter, during the sportlov or höstlov school holidays, or over the long Swedish summer. 

“My husband takes all of the school holidays and the summers off so we can travel and all be together,” says Martha Moore in Malmö. “I’m a teacher, so I will probably give all of my days to him, since I get to be off when my kids are off anyway.”

You can even claim for days which you are also claiming as holiday from your work, or days which are public holidays in Sweden, but you can only claim parental leave for these days at the so-called lägstanivå, or base level of 180 kronor a day.  

You can claim some days at the same time as the other parent. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Take a very long holiday 

One Australian living in Stockholm said she was off to Thailand for two and a half months this February in order to use up some of the days from her second child, which are due to expire when she turns four later in the year.

She recommends planning one long holiday to use up any of the 384 days that will expire when your child turns four, and then saving up the other 96 days for a second long holiday before they turn 12. 

She is putting her eldest child into a Swedish school in Thailand while they are there, using one of the chain of Swedish schools set up in Thailand, primarily for parents holidaying on their parental leave.  

She deliberately didn’t use as many days as she could have in the first 12 months, so that she and her husband could do this. “My tip is to not use many days at all paid that first 12 months, and to burn your savings instead,” she says. 

As her child is more than one year old, she and her husband cannot take leave simultaneously, however, so he is using holiday time he has saved up. 

Take leave before the birth 

The pregnant parent can start taking parental leave and collecting benefits up to 60 days before the due date. It’s actually compulsory for the mother to take two weeks of leave in connection with the birth, which can either be before or after. New fathers or secondary caregivers can also start taking leave up to ten days before the birth. 

This could be a waste of days, however, as if a difficult (or, let’s face it, even fairly normal) pregnancy makes it impossible to do your job, you can claim sickness benefits instead of parental leave, and get the same level of benefits without using up any of your 480 days. 

This does not apply, however, to “normal pregnancy difficulties such as back pain and fatigue”, so to claim sickness benefits, you will have to convince your doctor to certify that you have pregnancy difficulties that are “unusually severe”. 

A father carrying his child in a Baby Björn in Sweden. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Take a chunk out to do private projects 

People less good at forward planning sometimes take a chunk of leave just before their child turns four or twelve (or eight if they were born before January 1st, 2014), even if they don’t have anything planned in particular.  

You can use this time to do the sort of home chores that it is so hard to find time to do once you have children. 

“I had a colleague who took two months’ maternity leave when her daughter was seven years old,” says one woman in Malmö. “She took it as a vacation in the summer to fix her apartment.” 

Use parental leave to work a short week 

Once the child is in preschool (dagis or förskola) many people, including Moore’s husband, use parental leave to take Friday and/or Monday off work for six months or more, allowing them to spend more time with their child.

This is obviously something you have to square with your employer, but in Sweden most employers are more than willing to put employees on 80 percent. 

You can either use this time to take some of the pressure off your partner during their parental leave, or to reduce the amount of time your child spends in preschool.

A parent walking their child in a pram through a snowy Stockholm. Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se

Use parental leave to work short days 

You don’t need to take each allotted day as a full day, you can also reduce your working day by three quarters, a half, one quarter or one eighth, and receive proportional parental benefit for the time not worked.

Parents of a child under the age of eight can reduce their working hours by up to 25 percent, whether or not they decide to take parental benefit for the remaining 25 percent.

This can be extremely helpful in making combining childcare and work a little less stressful.

Claim leave for weekends 

You can claim parental leave on weekends as well as on normal weekdays, but unless you normally work on the weekend, you can only claim these at the lowest base level of 180 kronor. 

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