Becoming a parent is often described as being one of the most pivotal moments in a person’s life. Parents everywhere can testify to the fact that becoming a parent can be equally exciting as it is terrifying. Welcoming a baby into the world can often bring about concerns regarding employment status and security. Financial worries especially can place a great amount of strain on new parents.
Here is what you need to know when it comes to taking time off work and the benefits available to you while you’re on leave when having a baby or adopting a child.
What are your Rights to Maternity or Parental Leave in BC?
All new parents in BC are entitled to take time off work to care for a new baby or adopted child if:
You are covered by the BC Employment Standards Act; or
You are covered by an employment contract that specifically sets out your leave entitlements upon becoming a parent.
The majority of employees are covered by the Employment Standards Act. Some employees not covered by the Act include federally regulated employees, independent contractors, and unionized employees.
Under the Act, there are two kinds of leave employees can take, namely maternity leave (also known as pregnancy leave) and parental leave. Pregnant employees qualify to take up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave and are entitled to begin their maternity leave up to 13 weeks before the baby is born leaving 4 weeks of leave remaining after the baby is born.
Once the baby is born or the child has been adopted, the Act allows parents to take additional leave known as parental leave. Employees are entitled to take up to 61 weeks of parental leave immediately following the period of maternity leave.
Employment Insurance Maternity and Parental Benefits
Given that maternity and parental leave is considered unpaid time off, the law in BC does not require employers to pay employees while taking maternity or parental leave although some employers may choose to offer their employees paid leave or top-up payments.
The Federal Government provides employment insurance benefits (EI) to eligible employees to provide income support during the time they are away from work. EI maternity benefits are only available to employees who are away from work because they are pregnant or have recently given birth. Employees on maternity leave can collect up to 55% of their earnings, up to a maximum of $638 a week for a period of up to 15 weeks. Maternity benefits cannot be shared between parents; however, the person receiving maternity benefits may also be entitled to receive parental benefits.
EI parental benefits are available to the parents of a newborn baby or newly adopted child. Parents have the ability to choose between 2 options, that being standard parental benefits or extended parental benefits. The benefit option chosen will determine the number of weeks and the weekly amount received. Although parents have 2 benefit options to choose from, if sharing, each parent must choose the same option and can either receive their weeks of benefits at the same time or one after another. You can find an in-depth overview of EI maternity and parental benefits on the Government of Canada website.
What are your Rights and Protections at Work when you are Expecting? – Commonly Asked Questions
Can your employer fire you because you are pregnant?
No, your employer cannot fire you because you are pregnant or for taking maternity leave, otherwise you may have a case for wrongful dismissal. Under the BC Human Rights Code, your employer is prohibited from discriminating against you as a result of your pregnancy. That said, employers are permitted to terminate an employee while pregnant as long as the termination is not connected to the employee’s pregnancy.
Does your employer have to return you to the same position you held at the time your maternity or parental leave started?
Yes, according to the Employment Standards Act once your leave ends you are entitled to be returned to the same position you held at the time you started your leave or in a comparable position (if your original position no longer exists) provided that your employer doesn’t terminate their operations prior to your return to work. Also, your employer cannot make fundamental changes to your position when you return from your leave otherwise you may have grounds for a constructive dismissal claim.
What if you are unable to perform your regular job duties during your pregnancy?
Protection from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy extends to circumstances related to your pregnancy. You have the option to seek workplace accommodations if your regular job duties interfere with or pose a risk to your pregnancy. Special needs or restrictions/limitations resulting from your pregnancy must be reasonably accommodated by your employer, to the point of undue hardship. For instance, if you are unable to perform your regular job duties due to restrictions on your ability to stand for long periods of time or to do heavy lifting, a reasonable accommodation may require your employer to provide you with an alternate job assignment or a reassignment of some of your job duties.
Does taking Maternity or Parental Leave affect your years of service or other earned workplace benefits?
No, employees on maternity or parental leave continue to have the status of being an employee so taking maternity or parental leave does not affect your years of service/seniority, entitlement to raises, or your vacation.
If you have questions about your rights to maternity or parental leave and benefits or if you have experienced discrimination in the workplace as a result of your pregnancy, contact us to discuss!