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A Guide to Maternity Leave in Canada

A Guide to Maternity Leave in Canada

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Canada is a country with many working mothers. In 2019, about 64.7% of women over the age of 15 were in the workforce. This leaves many women wondering what their rights are when it comes to maternity leave.

In Canada, maternity leave is governed by the Employment Insurance Act. They offer one of the most generous maternity and parental leave programs globally. Let’s take a look at the basics of maternity leave in Canada.

How Does Maternity Leave Work in Canada?

In Canada, maternity and parental benefits are federal and funded by Employment Insurance (EI) except for in the province of Quebec. Almost every working Canadian pays into EI, and then they can withdraw from it in the event of a layoff, job loss, or parenthood. 

Only the mother can claim maternity leave and benefits. However, both the mother and father can claim parental leave benefits. Often the mother claims both the maternity and parental leave benefits.

Maternity Benefits 

EI maternity benefits are available to biological mothers (and surrogate mothers) who are away from work because they’re pregnant or have recently given birth.

How Much Are Maternity Benefits?

If you’re eligible for maternity benefits, you can receive benefits equal to 55% of your average weekly insurable wage. As of January 1, 2022, the maximum yearly insurable earnings is $60,300, making the maximum weekly amount is $638

Even if your income is higher than the maximum, you can still only receive benefit payments up to the set maximum amount (for example, if you make $80,000 yearly, you would still only be eligible for up to $638 weekly). The actual amount of maternity and parental benefit payments depends on how much you make before you take your leave and will be determined by the government. 

After maternity leave ends, either parent can take paid parental leave (more about that below in the section about Parental Leave).

Can You Get More?

The 55% is just what your federal government will give you. Some employers provide additional money to employees on maternity or parental leave. This is called a top-up. So, the federal government will give you 55% of your salary, and your employer might give you more to earn a higher portion of your total salary. Check your company policy to find out if they offer a top-up.

Are You Eligible for Paid Maternity Leave?

You may be eligible to receive EI maternity or paternity benefits if you can prove that:

  • You’re pregnant or have recently given birth.
  • You work in a job that is considered insurable employment. This means that you have had EI premiums deducted from your wage by your employer. These premium rates change from year to year.
  • Your normal weekly earnings are reduced by more than 40% because of your pregnancy or need to care for your newborn.
  • You have worked at least 600 hours of insurable employment in the past year. This means you have worked 600 hours in the 52 weeks before the start of your EI period (Temporary: until September 24, 2022. you’ll need 420 insured hours.)

Further Stipulations For Maternity Leave

You must provide your employer with a certificate from a health care practitioner confirming that you are pregnant. You must also give your employer written notice at least four weeks before starting your leave. This notice must advise your employer of the length of the leave.

If your child was not born during the 17 weeks of your maternity leave, the maternity leave is extended until the date of the birth.

As a pregnant employee, you are not obligated to take maternity leave unless your employer can show that you are unable to perform an essential function of your job. 

When Should I Start My Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave and benefits can be taken for up to 15 weeks. This can start as early as 12 weeks before the expected date of birth and can end as late as 17 weeks after the actual date of delivery. This means you can go on “maternity leave” as soon as three months before your due date. The third trimester can be rough, so don’t hesitate to ditch work a few weeks early if it suits you and fits your budget.

When to start your maternity leave is a personal choice. Some mothers choose to start their leave as close as possible to their due date to maximize the time off with their baby, while others may decide to stop working sooner to prepare. You can start receiving maternity benefits 12 weeks before your due date, so you have the option to see how you feel closer to the time.

Parental Leave in Canada

After your maternity leave ends, either parent can take parental leave.

What is the Difference Between Maternity Leave and Parental Leave?

While mothers take maternity leave near delivery and post-delivery, parental leave is offered to both mothers and fathers to care for their child after birth or adoption.

Are You Eligible for Parental Leave?

If you’re living and working in Canada, you may qualify for parental leave provided you can prove that:

  • You’re pregnant or have recently had a baby when applying for maternity benefits.
  • You’re a parent caring for a newborn or newly adopted child when applying to receive parental benefits.
  • Your regular weekly earnings have decreased by more than 40% for at least 1 week.
  • You must have accumulated at least 600 hours of insurable employment in the past year.

Parental benefits

Parental benefits are available to the parents of a newborn or newly adopted child.

You must choose between 2 options:

  1. Standard parental benefits
  2. Extended parental benefits

Check both these benefits in the table below.

Both parents can take this leave, but it has to be split. Your choice determines the number of weeks and the weekly amount you’ll receive.

Maternity and Parental Benefits Chart and Examples

Benefit name Maximum Weeks

(How long will it cover?)

Benefit Rate

(How much will it replace?)

Weekly Maximum

(How much will I receive?)

Maternity Up to 15 weeks Up to 55% of your earnings Up to a maximum of $638 a week
Standard parental benefit Up to 40 weeks, but one parent can’t receive more than 35 weeks of standard benefits Up to 55% of your earnings Up to a maximum of $638 a week
Extended parental benefit Up to 69 weeks, but one parent cannot receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefits Up to 33% of your earnings Up to a maximum of $383 a week
Source: the Government of Canada

Here’s an example of maternity plus standard parental benefits:

Pam Beesly is taking time off work to recover from childbirth. She is sharing parental benefits with her partner to care for their newborn. 

A Guide to Maternity Leave in Canada

Pam takes the maximum:

15 weeks of maternity + 35 weeks of standard parental = 50 weeks total for Pam

Her partner Jim Halpert can apply for up to 5 weeks of standard parental benefits to care for the baby. 

If Pam chooses to take fewer weeks of parental benefits, Jim can apply for more. For example, Pam takes the full 15 weeks of maternity benefits she is entitled to. After that, she and Jim each decide to take 20 weeks of standard parental benefits at the same time to care for their child.

 

Here’s an example of maternity plus extended parental benefits:

Angela Martin is taking time off work to recover from childbirth. She is sharing extended parental benefits with her partner to care for their newborn. 

A Guide to Maternity Leave in Canada

Angela takes the maximum:

15 weeks of maternity + 61 weeks of extended parental = 76 weeks total for Angela

Her partner Dwight Schrute can apply for up to 8 weeks of extended parental benefits to care for the baby. 

If Angela chooses to take fewer weeks of parental benefits, Dwight can apply for more. For example, Angela first takes the full 15 weeks of maternity benefits and then decides to take 39 weeks of extended parental benefits. This means Dwight can take up to 30 weeks of extended parental benefits to care for their child.

 

Side Note:

If sharing, each parent must choose the same option and submit their application. You can take parental leave together. So, if you want to be on leave for 20 weeks together, you can choose that or do it one after another.

Once you start receiving parental benefits, you can’t change options.

FAQ

When Could I Start My Parental Leave?

For parental leave, you can start to receive these during specific periods beginning the week your baby is born or the week your adopted child is placed with you. You can begin standard parental leave at any point within 12 months after welcoming your baby, and you have a window of 18 months to take extended parental leave.

How Do I Apply For EI Maternity and Parental Benefits?

You can apply online for EI maternity and parental benefits (the application takes about an hour to complete, but it’s a good idea to choose your benefit options and collect the required information and documents beforehand). Go to a Service Canada Office if you want to do it in person.

What if I Am Not A Canadian Citizen?

Even if you’re not a Canadian citizen, you may still be eligible to receive maternity and/or parental benefits provided you have a valid social insurance number (SIN). 

Do Those Living in Quebec Receive the Same Benefits?

No. If you’re a resident of Quebec, your maternity and parental benefits don’t come from EI but rather from a separate provincial plan. Visit the Québec Parental Insurance Plan for more information.

Don’t Forget You’ll Also Get the Child Canada Benefit (CCB) During This Time

The other perk of parenthood in Canada is once your child is born, you’re eligible for the Canada Child Benefit (CCB). The CCB is a monthly disbursement made to parents by the Government of Canada to help with child-rearing costs. You can receive up to $569.41 per month per child under the age of 6 (or $480.41 per child under the age of 17.)

This income is tax-free, so it will not impact the amount of your maternity leave or parental leave benefits.

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that while the Employment Insurance Act governs maternity leave in Canada, employers may have their own policies in place. It is always best to check with your employer to see what their specific policies are.

Maternity leave is a time for new mothers to bond with their babies and recover from childbirth. It is important to know your rights as a working mother in Canada so that you can make the most of this time with your new family. For employers, leave tracking management software can ensure that your business runs smoothly while employees are away on leave.