If you’re a parent in Canada, you may be very pleased to learn about new rules that went into place on Dec. 3, 2017. Now Canadian parents (except those in Quebec) can take 12 or 18 months of combined maternity and parental leave from their jobs, with benefits paid by the Canadian Employment Insurance program. Quebec has its own parental leave system, and the province plans to update it for compliance with federal rules. Small business owners should update their rules to meet federal requirements, and if you’re running a startup, you’re required to comply before you’re allowed to hire any workers. If you plan to do business in 2018, it’s time to check out the new rules and see how they apply to you.
Do You Qualify?
If your employees began their leaves before Dec. 3, 2017, they don’t qualify for this option. But aside from that, virtually all non-Quebec Canadian parents, including surrogate mothers, qualify for some sort of parental or maternity benefits as long as they meet certain thresholds. If your employees have worked up to 600 insurable hours in the 52-week run up to their claims, they qualify. Self-employed Canadians can also opt into the federal EI program, though they must have opted in for at least one year before claiming leave, and they also must have earned at least $6,888 in 2016.
How Have the Rules Changed?
EI offers maternity benefits for up to 15 weeks, up from the previous 8 weeks. This applies to biological mothers and surrogates who can’t work due to pregnancy or recent birth. Employees can begin using these benefits up to 12 weeks prior to the expected birth date and up to 17 weeks after the birth date. Regardless of how mothers use the time, they get 15 weeks of maternity benefits. For those 15 weeks, new mothers get 55 percent of their average weekly insurable earnings up to a $543 per week maximum.
After your workers use up the 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits, they can now choose between a 12-month standard or an 18-month extended parental leave after birth. This applies to both birth and adoptive parents. Those who choose the standard leave get a maximum of 35 weeks; both parents can share that time within a 52-week period. They receive 55 percent of their average insurable weekly income up to a $543 per week maximum for 2017.
Workers can only choose extended parental leave if their child was born or placed with them for adoption on or after Dec. 3, 2017. The extended leave provides 61 weeks of benefits that must be used within 78 weeks, and new parents can share this leave as well. They get a maximum of 33 percent of their average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $326 per week for 2017.
Potential Benefits and Problems
Happy, healthy parents are productive parents. Taking longer to bond with their child and move past the early days of sleepless nights can help your workers come back to work fresh with a new zeal for their jobs. A potential problem is that only those workers employed by federally regulated workplaces have a job guarantee when taking the 18-month option. Though the federal government plans to update the Canada Labour Code to reflect these changes, provincial governments might take some time to catch up with protected employee procedures. In addition, these rules apply to parental leave as an excuse for letting workers go, with no limitations should you need to downsize or restructure your work force.
Setting Company Policy
You can let your employees know exactly where they stand by establishing a clear-cut leave policy that maintains compliance with federal and provincial law. This includes coming up with a system that lets workers easily request time off, not just for leave-related events, but throughout their employment with you. For instance, consider creating forms that include common time-requests, including vacation days and maternity leave, and keep them handy for workers. Establish policies about when they can pre-request time off, and approve requests quickly so that employees know what to expect, which can help keep morale high.
Don’t Forget to Inform Employees About Changes
Keep workers informed about rules pertaining to leaves by adding that information to your employee handbook. You can print out hard copies for all employees every year as policies change, or simply change a digital version to update rules, then add notes to that guide them to those changes. Putting everything in writing ensures your employees know where to find the policy when they need it, but it’s up to you to be sure they understand it. Be ready to answer any questions quickly, and keep any necessary paperwork at the ready.
In addition to providing leave to parents, your company should remain ready to accommodate any special needs that pregnant mothers may have. You may need to alter a work setting to prevent injury or undue stress. Take seriously any medical documentation she brings, and work with her until her maternity leave begins.
While it might seem counter-intuitive, time off for new parents makes sense for them and for you as their employer. Time off helps them adjust to their new roles in life without the stress of job performance weighing on their minds, and it ensures you have workers in place prepared to focus fully on their jobs.