Canada has one of the strongest maternity/parental leave and benefits systems in the world. Certainly, it’s a lot better than our American neighbours to the south. The Employment Standards Act 2000 guarantees eligible birth parents protected time off work after the birth or adoption of their child.
That said, parents need to plan maternity and parental in Ontario leave wisely. How much the spouse on leave will earn, what benefits you are entitled to, whether your work health insurance will continue are essential to income-planning. After all, any unexpected shortfalls can jeopardize your home life and your child’s future.
“Do employers have to pay maternity/pregnancy leave?”
This is the first question expecting mothers ask (only birth mothers can take pregnancy leave). “How much does my employer pay me when I am on maternity leave?” Remember, every employment contract is different and you will need to read yours carefully to understand how much your employers pay you.
However, according to the minimum standards set by the ESA, an employer does not have to pay wages to an employee who is on pregnancy leave. It is very possible that under your employment contract your employer does pay you all or a part of your wages.
“Do you get paid for parental leave?”
It’s a similar situation for parental leave. Birth fathers, adoptive parents and same-sex couples who adopt a child are entitled to parental leave. This time off work is also unpaid. Again, some employers do pay for parental leave; check your contract to find specifics.
“Can I get benefits on maternity leave?”
Naturally, the next avenue parents can turn to is benefits. We’ll be talking about :
- Employment Insurance
- Health benefit plans from the employer
The federal Employment Insurance Act 1996 provides eligible employees maternity and parental benefits when they have taken pregnancy or parental leave. The distinction lies in that:
- Maternity leave benefits are paid to mothers who cannot work because they are pregnant or have given birth recently
- Parental benefits are provided to parents who are caring for a newborn or a newly adopted child.
For instance, a birth mother can receive both maternity leave benefits and parental benefits. However, the birth father, adoptive parents and same-sex couples can only avail parental benefits.
EI benefits usually pay up to about 55% of your income, with a cap on payments. Families with low incomes can receive supplementary amounts, depending on total family income and number of dependent children. In Ontario, this is also called the ‘baby bonus’. Ontario Child Benefits helps middle and low income families with the cost of raising children. It provides up to $1,434 per child per year.
Health benefit plans from the employer
Employees can continue with their health benefit plans associated with their employment. These can be:
- Pension plans
- Life insurance
- Extended health benefits
- Dental plans
An employee must keep paying their share of the premium to keep the plans active. An employer must also keep paying their share of premiums for benefits for the employee on maternity or parental leave. If the employee does not want to contribute their share of premium, they must tell the employer in writing.
Also, a female employee may be entitled to receive disability benefits for that part of her leave during which she was unable to work because of health reasons related to pregnancy or childbirth.
Protect your benefit plans during maternity/parental leave
Applying for EI for maternity and parental benefits requires a Record of Employment from your employer. Make sure your employer provides you with one before you apply for EI.
Also, if your employer is not covering health and dental benefits while you are on leave, you can keep paying for them yourself.
Some other precautions to take include:
- Planning and paying for insurance benefits
- Pension contributions during leave
- Enquire about employer-sponsored income top-ups
- Understanding your tax liabilities due to leave
Your rights on maternity or parental leave
In Ontario, an employer cannot penalize an employee because they are eligible to receive/taking/have taken pregnancy or parental leave. In most cases, you must be given your old job back once you return to work.
You must be paid at least the same amount you were earning before you took leave. If the wages for the job you were performing increased while you were on parental or pregnancy leave, you will be paid the higher wages once you return from leave.
Discuss your concerns with an experienced employment lawyer
If your employer is threatening you with termination or loss of position over maternity or parental leave, speak to Rahul Soni immediately. Employees on leave have the right to continue participation in certain benefit plans and continue to earn credit for length of employment, length of service, and seniority.
Our team has a strong track record of protecting parents’ entitlement to leave and benefits.