Workplace Maternity and Parental Leave in Canada
Governmental maternity and parental leave policies safeguard against discrimination. Said policies prohibit the dismissal, demotion, or suspension of employees who take leave for childbirth or childrearing. In other words, maternity and parental leave bar employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of maternal or parental status.
In countering discrimination, maternity and parental leave policies promote diversity in the workplace as well as equity and inclusion. An inclusive workplace is more likely to attract and retain top talent. Organizations that understand the benefits of maternity and parental leave in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) know that their employees aren’t just productive units – they’re real people with real needs. Stifling or ignoring said needs – including the need to honour familial obligations – is bad for business. As stated by Lauren Smith Brody, founder of the Fifth Trimester movement, “people who feel like whole human beings at work bring […] their personal lives to work in a way that ultimately fuels the work that they do, that makes them more committed, more dedicated.”
This blog is part of a two-part series on maternity and parental leave in Canada. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between maternity and parental leave and how they differ amongst provinces and territories.
What is Maternity Leave in Canada?
Maternity Leave in Canada
Maternity leave refers to the right to take a leave of absence insomuch as you’re pregnant or have recently given birth. In Canada, employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth can take up to 15 weeks’ leave without pay. During this time, employers are obliged to hold employees’ jobs.
Maternity Leave Benefits
Maternity leave benefits are federal payments for those on maternity leave. They’re intended to help birthing parents cover the costs of taking unpaid leave from work. Employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth are entitled to 55% of their earnings, up to a maximum of $638.00 CAD per week.
What is Parental Leave in Canada? Is Parental Leave Different Than Maternity Leave?
Parental Leave in Canada
Parental leave refers to the right to take a leave of absence to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. During this time, employers are required to hold your job. They cannot dismiss, demote, suspend, or otherwise penalize you for taking time off work.
Is Parental Leave the Same as Maternity Leave?
Unlike maternity leave, which is only available to the birthing parent, parental leave is available to both parents.
Parental leave can be taken by:
- The birthing parent, following maternity leave
- The other parent
- Both parents
- Adoptive parents
Parental Leave Benefits
Parental leave benefits are federal payments for those on parental leave. They are meant to help parents cover the costs of taking unpaid leave from work. In Canada, parents can choose between standard and extended parental benefits.
Standard Parental Benefits
Standard parental benefits provide up to 40 weeks’ leave. While the leave can be shared between parents, one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks of standard benefits. Both parents are eligible for 55% of their earnings, up to a maximum of $638.00 CAD per week.
Fatima, for example, is planning on taking time off work to recover from childbirth. She’s going to share parental benefits with her partner. If Fatima takes the maximum, she’ll be on leave for 50 weeks.
15 weeks maternity leave + 35 weeks standard parental leave = 50 weeks total
Fatima’s partner can apply for up to 5 weeks of standard parental leave to care for the baby.
If Fatima chooses to take fewer weeks of parental benefits, her partner could apply for more.
Extended Parental Benefits
With extended parental benefits, parents can share up to 69 weeks’ leave. However, neither parent can receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefits. Both parents are entitled to 33% of their earnings, up to a maximum of $383.00 CAD per week.
Sandy, for instance, is going to take time off work to recover from childbirth. They will be sharing parental benefits with their partner. If Sandy takes the maximum, they will be on leave for 76 weeks.
15 weeks maternity leave + 61 weeks extended parental leave = 76 weeks total
Sandy’s partner can apply for up to 8 weeks of extended parental leave to care for the baby.
If Sandy chooses to take fewer weeks of parental benefits, their partner could apply for more.
Does Maternity or Parental Leave in Canada Differ from Province to Province?
The length of maternity and parental leave varies by province and territory.
Federally, maternity leave is 15 weeks long. Provincial and territorial governments are prohibited from shortening maternity leave. However, it is within their power to extend maternity leave. For example, maternity leave is 16 weeks long in Alberta. Yet, this does not mean that employees on maternity leave will receive 16 weeks of maternity benefits. Maternity leave benefits are federal payments. Whether provincial or territorial governments allow birthing parents to take more than 15 weeks’ job-protected leave does not change the fact that the federal government only provides 15 weeks of maternity benefits.
The same rules apply to parental leave. Provincial and territorial governments can make parental leave longer, not shorter. However, longer parental leaves do not mean longer parental benefits.
What Should You Expect from Your Employer When Asking for Maternity or Parental Leave in Canada?
DO expect your employer to say, “Yes!” It is illegal to deny maternity or parental leave to those who meet governmental guidelines.
DON’T expect your employer to have all the answers. For the most up-to-date information on maternity and parental leave, consult Service Canada and your provincial or territorial government.
DON’T expect your employer to offer a top-up. Some employers offer an income top-up to supplement maternity or parental benefits, some don’t.
If yours does, find out:
- How much you’ll get
- How long it’ll last
- If you’ll be required to return to work at a certain time or remain at your job for a minimum length of time
To learn more about income top-ups, check out PART 2 of our series on maternity and parental leave in Canada.