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Family Health Magazine - CHILDBIRTH

Taking Leave
Maternity & parental leave in Canada

Making decisions about taking time off work when having a baby can be tricky. No simple answer to this question exists. It depends very much on your health, any problems with the pregnancy, and the kind of work you do. Fortunately, many expectant mothers and their partners can access government benefits to help them take time off as they welcome a new baby.

Apart from women who do certain risky jobs or those with high-risk pregnancies, most pregnant women can work as long as they like. In some cases, job duties may need adjustment to meet the pregnant woman’s needs. Each woman’s situation is different. You may wonder if your job has special risks for you or your baby. If so, talk to your doctor or midwife to see if you can keep doing it while you are pregnant.

How does maternity leave usually work?

In most cases, women with a healthy pregnancy keep working until close to their due date. Some take maternity leave in the final days or weeks of pregnancy. Others prefer to work until the day their baby is born. This allows more time off once the baby has arrived.

In nearly every part of Canada, maternity and parental leave rules are the same. (Only Quebec has a slightly different system.) The changes to the maternity and parental leave program which were announced in the 2017 federal budget took effect in December. The new rules will affect the system in most of Canada, outside of Quebec.

The program will support expectant parents who have been working. They can access government payments to help with taking time off during pregnancy, or while caring for a new baby.

A simple way of thinking about maternal and parental leaves

If this system seems a bit confusing, try thinking about it this way.
A pregnant woman who qualifies can receive 12 to 18 months
of paid leave in total:

• 15 weeks of maternity leave

• and 35 to 61 weeks of parental leave.

If the woman does not take all of the parental leave, her partner can usually take the rest. Adoptive parents do not get maternity leave, just 35 to 61 weeks of parental leave. They can share this time off if they want to do so.

What benefits are available to expectant parents?

In Canada, most new parents can take a leave around the time when their baby arrives, and receive pay from Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. Parents may qualify for two types of payments.

Maternity benefits – This first type of payment covers up to 15 weeks of time off. It is a medical leave, meant to cover the time when a woman might find it hard to do her job because of the physical challenges of pregnancy or giving birth. Maternity leave is only available to pregnant woman and those who have given birth. It cannot be taken by a partner or by adoptive parents.

Parental benefits – While medical leave is only needed by a woman giving birth, all parents may need time off work to care for a new child. Parental benefits are available to any parent who qualifies, even those who have not given birth. Both biological and adoptive new parents may be able to take between 35 to 61 weeks of leave with pay. This leave can be taken by either a mother or a father, and can also be divided between two parents. The total amount of money that parents receive will be the same whether they take 35 weeks or 61 weeks, or somewhere in between.

As you might have noticed, this system is flexible. It leaves some important choices up to you as a parent. You decide when you want to start your leave, how many weeks to take, and how to divide the weeks between parents.

With maternity leave, the woman makes the decision about when to use the benefit. For most women, it depends on how they feel and whether they are finding it hard to work. Maternity leave payments can start anytime from twelve weeks before the day the baby is expected to be born.

Keep in mind that a mother only gets fifteen weeks of maternity leave. If you use part of it before the baby is born, you will have less maternity leave time once your baby arrives. Some women begin maternity leave twelve weeks before their due date. Others work until the day their baby is born, saving all of their maternity leave for after delivery. Most women will be somewhere in between.

In addition to maternity leave time, new parents also usually get 35 to 61 weeks of parental benefits. These weeks can be taken by just one parent, or two parents can split them any way they want. Parents sharing these weeks can decide when each of them will be off work. Many parents take turns. Others take their weeks off at the same time, so that they can care for their child together.

New parents also need to decide how many weeks of parental leave to take. If they only take 35 weeks, the weekly payments will be higher than if they take all 61 weeks. If they take a longer period of leave, they receive less money each week than if they took a shorter leave. The same payment will be spread out over a longer time. Either way, the total amount they get will be the same in the end.
Who is eligible?

To qualify for either type of leave, parents must meet certain employment cut-offs. Usually they need to have worked at least 600 hours in the past year. As well, their jobs must be covered by Employment Insurance. (If EI premiums are taken off your paycheque, it means you are covered by EI.)

Although most people who work full-time qualify, there are exceptions. For instance, if you have not been working long, you may not have enough hours to qualify. As well, if you do not pay Employment Insurance premiums at your job, you might not have this insurance. About a third of new parents will not be able to get benefits for one of these reasons.

Sometimes only one parent meets the rules for leave. If this happens, usually that person will take all of the weeks since their partner cannot take any.

Employment Insurance payments are always less than you would earn working at your job. The benefits are not meant to entirely replace your earnings. They are just enough to make it easier to take some time off. For this reason, it helps to have some savings to use during this time. Some employers also offer ‘top-up’ programs, which means they pay some money to bring the total amount closer to your usual pay.

The amount paid for maternity and parental leave may change over time. Right now, women on maternity leave will get up to 55 per cent of their earnings, to a maximum of $543 a week. Parents who take 35 weeks of parental leave will also get up to 55 per cent of their earnings for those weeks, to the same limit of $543 per week. If the parents decide to take more than 35 weeks of parental leave, they will get less for each week. If they take all 61 weeks of parental leave, their payments will be 33 per cent of the pay they earned when they were working, to a maximum of $362 per week. Either way, the total amount they collect will be the same.

What happens if I am sick or have a high-risk pregnancy?

If you have a serious medical complication while you are pregnant, your doctor or midwife may advise you to stop working. If this happens, you would not usually need to use your maternity leave benefits to cover this extra time off. In most cases, it is considered a separate medical or sick leave, and so may be covered by sick days or disability insurance.

If you do not have these, you might qualify for Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits, which are different from Maternity Benefits. Unfortunately, even if your health care provider says that you need to be off work, you are not guaranteed to receive payments. To receive payments, you must have coverage through one of these programs.

Some people are not entitled to paid sick days at their job, do not have any disability insurance coverage, and have not worked enough insurable hours to qualify for Employment Insurance coverage. If you do not qualify for any of these payments, if you must stop working for medical reasons you will not be paid during the time you take off.

If you stop working because of a medical complication and get better, you may be able to go back. In this case, your sick leave will end and you will begin earning your usual wages again. Just like any other healthy pregnant woman, you will be able to decide when to start your maternity leave.

When a medical complication continues, you usually stay off work on sick leave or disability until it improves. If you get better during the time when you would still qualify for maternity or parental leave, you could switch from sick leave to maternity or parental leave.

Sometimes employers will advise women to ask for sick leave, even though the pregnancy is normal and healthy. This can happen for many reasons. A woman may have sick time banked, which her employer wants her to use before going on maternity leave. It can be more convenient to the employer to have the woman stop working at a certain time. For instance, using sick days could allow a pregnant teacher to finish working at the end of the school year. Sometimes, a boss or customer may even feel uncomfortable having a pregnant woman at work.

However, a doctor or midwife cannot use any of these as reasons to recommend sick leave. Health care professionals must follow the rules and make decisions based on medical facts. If your employer has told you to request sick leave, talk to your pregnancy care provider about the situation. They will consider your health, your symptoms and your job duties, and can advise you whether there is any medical reason why you need to be off work. If not, they will not be able to recommend sick leave. You will have to decide whether to continue working or start your maternity leave.

Remember that your employer does not get to decide when your maternity leave starts. That is your choice. If you are healthy and want to continue working, and your job is not risky to you or your baby, in most cases you must be allowed to work. Your employer cannot take away your job or discriminate against you just because you are pregnant.

For more details about maternity and parental leave,
visit the Government of Canada website.

Instructions about how to apply and explanations for those in special situations are included.

If you feel tired, or are having backaches or other pregnancy symptoms, discuss these problems with your health care provider. With a normal healthy pregnancy, these common discomforts do not mean that you need to be off work. However, your care provider will be able to give you some ideas for how to deal with these symptoms.

Once you are close to the end of your pregnancy, you may decide to take your maternity leave if working makes your symptoms worse. However, remember that many women feel just as uncomfortable at home. Sometimes work can be a good distraction from the normal aches and pains of pregnancy.

What if my job poses a risk?

Some jobs are especially dangerous for a pregnant woman, even if she is healthy. This includes jobs with an unusual amount of physical activity, like lifting very heavy things or climbing ladders. In other jobs, a pregnant woman would be exposed to dangerous chemicals, fumes, radiation, or some contagious diseases. Even women who work overnight shifts or on airplanes can have special risks near the end of their pregnancies. If your work includes some of these duties, talk to your doctor or midwife about the dangers to you and your baby. Most of the time, your employer can change your duties, so that you can continue to do some kind of work while avoiding the risks. In rare cases where this is not possible, you may need to be off work for all or part of your pregnancy. Usually, this would be covered by sick leave or disability benefits.

As you can see, decisions about time off in pregnancy can be complicated. Talk with your doctor or midwife, your employer, and your family. They may be able to provide some thoughts and suggestions that help you to decide what will work best for you.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of:
College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of:
College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2019, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1    [CB_FHab18]
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