Federal rules governing maternity and parental leave, effective December 3, give Canadian parents and expecting moms more options. These changes come 46 years after this system, part of Canada’s employment insurance (EI), was first implemented. Parental leave has not remained static over the past four-and-a-half decades, but it has not kept up with the substantial changes seen in the labour market and the makeup of families over this time. The new rules are aimed at better meeting the needs of current employees and families—Here is a closer look at what has changed for maternity, parental and family caregiver benefits.

Flexibility in New Canadian Parental Leave Benefits

Maternity Benefits

The 15 weeks of maternity benefits for new moms and surrogates will continue. During this time, federal EI provides 55% of gross average weekly salary (up to a maximum $543 a week).

However, whereas the previous rule allowed maternity benefits to commence eight weeks prior to the due date, the new rule expands that to 12 weeks.

The other major change expands the length of time benefits can be paid after the 15 weeks of maternity leave are up. Previously, the rule provided for 35 additional weeks of parental leave for a total of 12 months (when combined with maternity leave). The new rule provides for 61 additional weeks of parental leave for a total of 18 months (when combined with maternity leave).

The amount of weekly federal EI provided after the 15 weeks of maternity benefits are exhausted varies depending on which of the two options are chosen. The 12-month option continues to provide the same amount someone is eligible for when collecting maternity benefits—55% of gross average weekly salary (up to a maximum $543 a week). The 18-month option provides 33% of gross average weekly salary (up to a maximum $326 a week). Over time, the total amount paid out is very similar. The difference is the 18-month payout is $881 higher than the 12-month payout.

Parental Benefits

Parental benefits are per family or per household, i.e., parents cannot each take 12 or 18 months. However, eligible parents can combine the time off up to the maximum 12 or 18 months with the option to take leave simultaneously or separately.

Under the Canada Labour Code, the extended parental benefit and corresponding leave are available to eligible same-sex parents.

Family Caregiver Benefits

Also noteworthy is the expansion of the family caregiver benefit. This includes additional flexibility to care for critically ill or injured children and a new 15-week leave to care for a critically ill or injured adult.

The Canadian Labour Code has been amended so these updates will go into effect on December 3 for federally regulated workplaces. Provincial employment standards legislation will need to be amended for workers outside of federally regulated industries to ensure job protection for employees who choose the 18-month option.

There are some caveats to the new rules:

  • Eligibility for maternity and/or parental benefits requires 600 hours of insurable work in the 52 weeks prior to a claim. Jennifer Robson, author of a recent study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, estimates one third of couples don’t qualify.
  • Individuals on maternity or parental leave prior to December 3, 2017 cannot take advantage of the new 18-month option.
  • The new federal changes do not apply to employees in Quebec, who are governed by the provincial Quebec Parental Insurance Program. Maternity leave is 18 weeks and parental leave is 52 weeks in Quebec. However, Quebec offers a weekly benefit of close to $900 a week and five weeks of paid leave for new fathers.

Welcoming a newborn is a time of adjustment, even for experienced parents.  These added choices lend flexibility to families facing an increasingly complicated set of circumstances, both at home and in the workplace.  As their work and home lives evolve, it is important their maternity and parental leave and benefit options do as well.

Bryan Zoran, CEBS
Director, Educational Programs—Canada, at the International Foundation

Bryan Zoran, CEBS

Director, Educational ProgramsCanada, at the International Foundation 

Favorite Foundation moment (so far):  Keynote General Rick Hillier at 46th Annual Canadian Conference

Benefits topics that interest him most:  Health and wellness, training and apprenticeships, financial awareness

Personal Insight: Bryan previously worked at the Foundation in the research department but left to explore the world and spent some time teaching English in Brooklyn and Prague. While some may not consider benefits education as exotic, Bryan is inspired by the opportunity to impact many lives by helping our members strengthen the benefits they provide.


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