Employee Benefits

Parental Leave Laws for Canadian Employers [Cheat-Sheet]

By Corinne Prevost on September, 21 2017
7 minute read

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Corinne Prevost

Client Service Representative

Has one of your employees come to you with some exciting ‘news’ recently? Are the excited squeals and congratulations of coworkers floating around the office?  

Pregnant employee at a desk

Even if you have never dealt with the realities of a pregnant employee before, odds are that sooner or later, someone will request time off to be with a new baby.

As an employer, it’s imperative that you are aware of the regulations that protect the rights of new mothers and fathers.  Any mistake on your part can result in costly litigation, undue stress, and loss of company reputation.

But don’t worry! We know parental leave laws can be a bit complex, so we created this cheat sheet to help simplify the information. In addition, if you are uncertain about any aspect of maternity and parental leave, we strongly suggest you consult with an experienced employee benefits advisor.

Understanding Maternity and Parental Leave in Canada

During maternity and parental leave, your employee takes time off work while you hold their job for them. Employees taking time off may also qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) parental benefits.

Maternity leave is for biological mothers only. It is taken while pregnant and after the baby is born. Your employee can also take a parental leave after their maternity leave.

Parental leave is for both parents, whether they are biological or adoptive. Both parents can take a parental leave, at the same time or at different times, even if they are both employed by the same company.

Adoption leave allows new adoptive parents to take time off to care for their child.

As an employer, what are my responsibilities?

  • You are not required to pay wages during your employee’s leave, unless stated in an employment contract or collective agreement.
  • You may be required to continue employee benefits depending upon a number of factors. Further details are provided below.
  • You cannot discriminate, lay off, or terminate an employee, or require them to resign because of pregnancy or childbirth.
  • You must allow eligible employees to take maternity or parental leave without risk of losing their job, and give them their same, or equivalent, job back when they return to work.
  • Employees on maternity or parental leave are considered to be continuously employed, for the purposes of calculating years of service.

The leave may be extended, depending on the province, if the birth mother is unable to return to work for reasons related to the birth or termination of the pregnancy.

Maternity, parental, and adoption leave by province

Each province has minor variations regarding the length of leave, which are outlined below.

maternity leave time off in weeks


parental leave time off in weeks
What does my employee need to provide before taking maternity or parental leave?

Each province also has minor variations regarding what is required by the employee at the start and end of the leave.

For example, according to the BC Employment Standards Act an employee in British Columbia must submit a request for leave in writing at least 4 weeks before the first day of leave.

In case of unforeseen problems with the pregnancy or pregnancy termination, employers can extend the leave by up to six weeks. You also may ask for a medical or nurse practitioner's certificate stating the expected birth date or the date the pregnancy terminated.

What does my employee need to know about EI parental and maternity leave benefits?

EI Maternity Benefits can be paid for a maximum period of 15 weeks and must end 17 weeks after the week your employee is expected to give birth or the week she actually gives birth, whichever is later.

EI Parental Benefits can be paid for a maximum period of 35 weeks and must end 52 weeks after the week your employee’s child is born or was placed with them for adoption.

Note: The Government of Canada has proposed the option of an extended 18 month leave as part of the 2017 federal budget.

If your employee chooses to take this longer leave, they will receive EI benefits at a lower rate of 33% over 18 months instead of 55% over 12 months. However, there are still uncertainties around how this policy will be integrated into each province.

In order to receive Employment Insurance maternity or parental benefits each parent must:

1. Have previously worked 600 hours in the last 52 weeks or since their last claim. 

  • Meeting these hourly requirements entitles them to 55% of their weekly insurable earnings to a maximum of $543.00 a week. 

2. Agree to have their earnings reduced by more than 40%.

3. Sign a statement declaring:

    • the newborn’s date of birth or, in the case of adoption, the child’s date of placement.
    • the name and address of the adoption authority.
    • for maternity benefits -  the expected due date or the actual date of birth.
4. Provide the name and SIN number of the other parent if they are sharing the benefits.

What about adding a Supplementary Unemployment Plan?

For many moderate-income employees, the amount paid by EI is considerably less than the 55% of their earnings. This is where the Supplementary Unemployment Plan (SUB Plan) comes in.

SUB is a program that allows an employer to subsidize an employee’s weekly earnings while they are receiving EI benefits.  

Important things to know:

  • The subsidy may not exceed 95% of the employee’s regular employed weekly earnings.
  • To supplement maternity or paternity leave, an employer does not need prior approval by Service Canada. Instead, a note on the Record of Employment will suffice.

What about working while on claim?

Working while on claim (WWC) allows employee insurance claimants to earn income while receiving employee benefits and helps them to transition back to employment.

As of August 12, 2018, the working while on claim (WWC) rules are extended to both employee insurance maternity and sickness benefits. On top of this, the 50 cents for every dollar earned rule becomes a permanent part of the employment insurance program.

This means if an employee is earning money while receiving employee insurance benefits, they can keep 50 cents of the benefits for every dollar earned, up to 90 percent of the previous weekly insurable earnings used to calculate their employee insurance benefit rate. Any earnings above that amount are deducted dollar-for-dollar.

However, there is an exception. If an employee works a full work week, they are considered to be employed and they will not receive any employee benefits for that week, regardless of the amount they earn. But, this will not reduce the total number of weeks payable on their claim.

This change will likely benefit both businesses and new parents as it allows employees on maternity or parental leave to gradually return to work prior to the official end of their leave without the financial penalty that existed under the old rules.

Do I still need to provide regular employee benefits?

When an eligible employee has decided to take parental leave, they are entitled to continue extended health, dental, and retirement benefit programs. Life and disability insurance benefits should also continue.

In a cost-sharing situation, the employer must inform the employee of their right to continue benefits. If the employee chooses to continue paying their portion of the monthly premium, the employer must continue to pay the company’s portion of the cost-shared premium.  

In the situation where the employer pays 100% of the premium, the employer must continue all benefits while the employee is on leave.

The role of an employee benefits advisor

An experienced employee benefits advisor is always up-to-date on changes in benefit and insurance law. They can help you stay on top of your responsibilities as an employer, keep your business running smoothly, and avoid potential litigation issues.

To learn more about how to choose the best advisor for your business, download our free resource: 

7 Essential Tips When Selecting an Employee Benefits Advisor

Employee benefits solutions are more complex than ever. Learn what you need to look for when selecting a benefits advisor.

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