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What Are the Maternity Leave Rules in Canada?

June 13, 2023

Canada has a comprehensive set of rules and regulations around maternity leave and benefits that have been subject to changes over recent years. During the pandemic, the Government of Canada loosened eligibility criteria to increase accessibility and inclusivity but returned to pre-pandemic requirements in September 2022. 

Discussions about parental leave rights in Canada are ongoing, so business owners with employees in Canada should keep an eye on developments and proposals for new legislation. 

Additionally, some provinces have specific rules around maternity and parental leave, so you’ll need to check regional requirements depending on where your employees live. That said, in this article, we’ll provide an overview of general maternity leave rules in Canada. 

Maternity Leave in Canada: An Overview

In Canada, maternity leave rights are set out in employment laws and the Employment Insurance (EI) program that guarantees certain benefits and rights for expectant mothers. These benefits typically include the following:

Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits

The Employment Insurance Act guarantees certain entitlements to employees who meet the eligibility criteria. Eligible mothers can receive financial support through the EI program during their maternity leave, helping to compensate for the loss of income during this period.

  • EI maternity benefits are only available to the person giving birth, who may be entitled to receive up to 55% of their salary, up to a maximum of $650 per week, for up to 15 weeks. 
  • EI parental benefits are available to parents of a newborn or newly adopted child. New parents can choose to receive standard parental benefits or extended parental benefits. 
  • Standard parental leave offers parents 40 weeks of paid parental leave to share between them at 55% of their salary, but one parent may not take more than 35 weeks of standard parental benefits. 
  • Extended parental leave allows parents to share up to 69 weeks of leave at 33% of their salary, up to a maximum of $390 per week. 
  • Pregnant employees are entitled to both maternity and shared parental leave. Therefore, a new mother could take 15 weeks of maternity leave followed by 35 weeks of parental leave while her partner applies for five weeks of shared parental leave.

Québec Parental Insurance Plan

Residents of the Province of Québec are subject to the Québec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). QPIP offers new mothers the choice between two different benefit plans: 18 weeks of paid maternity leave at 70% of their salary or 15 weeks at 75% of their earnings. 

Under QPIP, parents can share up to 32 weeks of paid leave, receiving 70% of their weekly earnings for the first seven weeks and 55% for the remaining 25 weeks. Alternatively, they can opt for 25 weeks of leave at 75% of their earnings.

Job Protection

Pregnant and postpartum employees are entitled to job security and protection against termination or dismissal due to pregnancy or maternity leave. Employers must reinstate them to the same or a comparable position upon their return to work.

Duration of Leave

The length of maternity leave available in Canada varies by region — for example, mothers in Ontario receive 17 weeks of maternity leave rather than the standard 15. Other provinces offer extended maternity leave options, so you’ll need to check the regulations in each region where your employees live to ensure compliance. 

Health Benefits

During maternity leave, new mothers may continue to receive certain health benefits, such as coverage for medical expenses, prescription medications, and access to necessary healthcare services.

Eligibility Criteria for Maternity Leave in Canada

Eligibility for maternity leave pay and benefits in Canada depends on the expectant mother’s insurable employment status prior to pregnancy and birth. 

Employment Insurance Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for maternity leave benefits in Canada, expectant mothers must meet specific requirements set out in the EI Act. These requirements include:

  • Contributions to EI: New mothers must have made sufficient contributions to the EI program through their employment. These contributions are typically deducted from their paychecks and go toward funding various employment benefits, including maternity leave.
  • Minimum hours worked: There is a minimum threshold for the number of hours worked in the weeks or months before applying for maternity leave benefits. The exact number of hours varies by province, but it typically ranges between 420 and 700 hours.
  • Insurable employment: The employment held by the expectant mother must be considered “insurable employment” under the EI program. Most forms of employment in Canada fall under this category, but certain types of self-employment or casual work may not qualify.

Employment Tenure and Hours Worked

The duration of employment and the number of hours worked also play a role in determining eligibility for maternity leave benefits. Generally, expectant mothers must have a minimum tenure with their current employer and have worked a certain number of hours during that period.

  • Employment tenure: Expectant mothers may need to have been working for the same employer for a specified period, typically ranging from three to six months, to be eligible for maternity leave benefits.
  • Hours worked: There is often a minimum number of hours that expectant mothers must have worked during their employment tenure. This requirement ensures that they have an established work history and have contributed to the workplace before taking leave. The number of hours worked may range from 600 to 1,200 hours, depending on the jurisdiction.

Calculating and Applying for Maternity Leave Benefits

Employers should familiarize themselves with the application process and calculation of maternity leave benefits so they can ensure pregnant and postpartum employees receive the right support.

Maternity Leave Benefits Application Process

Expectant mothers can apply for EI benefits up to eight weeks before their expected due date. They can apply online through the Service Canada website or by visiting a Service Canada Centre. Pregnant employees should apply for leave as soon as possible to ensure timely processing of their applications.

How Are Maternity Benefits Calculated?

The amount of maternity leave benefits is calculated based on the mother’s insurable earnings in the preceding weeks or months leading up to the claim. The specific calculation method may vary, but it typically takes into account the highest earning period within a specified timeframe.

Other Benefits 

While receiving maternity leave benefits, mothers can still maintain their employer-provided health benefits, such as medical and dental coverage. Employers should establish internal policies regarding the continuation of these benefits during maternity leave.

Recent Updates to Maternity Leave Policies in Canada

Maternity leave policies in Canada are subject to updates and revisions over time that aim to address emerging needs, enhance support for working parents, and align with evolving societal expectations. Here are some recent updates to maternity leave policies in Canada:

Extended Parental Leave

In 2017, the Canadian government introduced changes to parental leave benefits under the Employment Insurance program. These changes allow parents to choose an extended leave option, extending the combined maternity and parental leave from 12 to 18 months. This provides parents with more flexibility in managing their work-life balance during the early stages of their child’s life.

Increased Benefits for Low-Income Families

The government has also taken steps to improve support for low-income families during maternity leave. Changes to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) program have resulted in increased financial assistance for families with children, providing additional support during the leave period.

Enhancements to Job Protection

Various provinces have introduced measures to strengthen job protection for parents during maternity leave. For example, some provinces have increased the amount of time that employers are required to hold a job for an employee on maternity leave, ensuring job security and facilitating a smooth transition back to work.

Pending Legislation and Their Impact on Maternity Leave in Canada

While specific legislative changes are subject to regional variations, several potential changes to maternity leave policies are being discussed or considered at the federal and provincial levels. These proposed changes have the potential to shape maternity leave benefits in the future. Here are some areas under discussion:

Longer Maternity Leave

There have been ongoing discussions about further extending the duration of maternity leave, allowing mothers more time for bonding and caring for their newborns. Proposals to increase the leave period beyond the existing 18 months are being considered, although no concrete changes have been implemented at a national level as yet.

Expanded Eligibility Criteria

Some proposals aim to broaden the eligibility criteria for maternity leave benefits. This may include reducing the required number of hours worked or expanding coverage to include different employment arrangements, such as self-employed individuals or casual workers.

Enhanced Support for Breastfeeding

There are ongoing discussions about strengthening support for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Proposed changes may include mandating accommodations for breastfeeding or pumping milk — ensuring mothers have the necessary facilities and time to continue breastfeeding while transitioning back to work.

Stay Compliant with Maternity Regulations in Canada

Canada’s maternity leave policy is subject to constant review and reform at both the federal and provincial levels. As an employer with team members in Canada, you’ll need to stay up-to-date with the latest regulations and update your policies accordingly. 

Many companies find they simply don’t have the internal capacity to stay current with ever-shifting requirements in multiple countries and decide to outsource global HR management to an employer of record (EOR) organization like Remofirst. Our team of international legal and compliance experts stays on top of developments such as new maternity leave legislation so our clients can rest assured they’re in compliance with local laws. 

Looking for more detailed information about maternity leave benefits in Canada? Check out our Canada country guide.