April 9, 2019

Sifting through the issues surrounding leave entitlement is not without its challenges. Who is entitled to leave, when and for how long? These are some of the frequently asked questions.

The following discussion is limited to maternity and parental Employment Insurance (EI) benefits provided by the Federal Government. It should be noted, however, that “top up” benefits – which may be quite generous – are sometimes available through one’s employer.

Maternity leave is perhaps the most straightforward. This is only available to the person who is away from work because they are carrying a child or have given birth. There are no changes to maternity benefits under the recent additional leave options, which came into effect last month. Under the existing regime, maternity benefits are available for up to 15 weeks, at a rate of 55% of average weekly insurable earnings to a maximum of $562 per week.

Parental leave, as the words imply, is available to the parents, including same-sex parents, of a newborn or newly adopted child. Changes to parental benefits have been introduced by The Ministry of Families, Children and Social Development, and took effect on March 17, 2019.

The new Parental Sharing Benefit allows parents to take either an additional 5 weeks – under the Standard Parental Benefits option or an additional 8 weeks – under the Extended Benefits option, provided that both parents agree to share parental leave. The goal of these changes is indicated as being to “share the joy and work of raising … children more equally.”

Under the Standard Parental Benefits option, parents can take leave up to a combined total of 40 weeks (up from 35), at a benefit rate of 55% of earnings, up to a weekly maximum of $562. However, no one parent can receive more than 35 weeks of standard benefits. The other option is Extended Parental Benefits: this provides for a maximum of 69 weeks (up from 61), at a benefit rate of 33% of earnings, up to a weekly maximum of $337 per week. No one parent can receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefits.

Time will reveal the extent to which parents choose to take advantage of the additional benefits, and whether the government’s stated policy goals are achieved. It is certain that the impact of the new measures on enterprises, especially small businesses, will be closely watched by the private sector.