Parental leave regulations in most OECD countries have two key policy instruments: jobprotection and cash benefits. This paper studies how mothers’ return to work behavior andlabor market outcomes are affected by alternative mixes of these key policy parameters.Exploiting a series of major parental leave policy changes in Austria, we find that longer cashbenefits lead to a significant delay in return to work and that the magnitude of this effectdepends on the relative length of job protection and cash benefits. However, despite theirimpact on time on leave, we do not find a significant effect on mothers’ labor marketoutcomes in the medium run, neither of benefit duration nor of job-protection duration. Tounderstand the relative importance (and interaction) of the two policy instruments in shapingmothers’ return to work behavior, we set up a non-stationary job search model in which cashbenefits and job protection determine decisions of when to return to work and whether or notto return to the pre-birth employer. Despite its lean structure, the model does surprisingly wellin matching empirically observed return to work profiles. The simulation of alternativecounterfactual regimes shows that a policy that combines both job protection and benefitspayments succeeds to induce mothers to spend some time with the child after birth withoutjeopardizing their medium run labor market attachment.