Anytime I post about paid parental leave I'm always surprised by the feedback. So many people comment on how the government couldn’t afford to provide that benefit and how many people would take advantage of it.
I had a little Aha Moment and realized that on the surface maternity benefits look like free money handed out to anyone claiming they had a baby. So I thought I’d put together a post on how Canadian maternity leave works. I had Claire do all of the research because she’s American so she’d be better at spotting the differences (plus, I like reading government websites about as much as a rectal exam.)
Canadian Maternity Leave 101
The quick and dirty summary of Canadian maternity leave is that the government provides, at minimum, partial income to a family for almost a year after a baby is born, as well as a guarantee that your job will be waiting for you at the same pay when you return. Yah, I know. Pretty different from the U.S., where you typically get (maybe) 12 weeks unpaid.
How does Canada make this magic happen? The maternity leave portion is required by Canadian labour code, specifically that women who have just given birth get up to 17 weeks of unpaid maternity leave and leave can start as early as eight weeks before the baby is due. Mom’s job must be waiting for her at the end of leave with the same pay and benefits. Huzzah!
Separate from maternity leave is a 35 week parental leave that can be taken by either parent and the time may be split between the two parents. Tack that 35 weeks of parental onto the 17 weeks of maternity leave and someone can be home with babe for a whole year!
As for collecting leave benefits (cash money) while you’re out, that has to do with Employment Insurance (EI). So no, it’s not free money from the government — Canadians pay into their own leave every month and then you can basically cash out your insurance policy when you have a baby.
To be eligible for EI benefits you need to:
- Be enrolled in Employment Insurance (if you work at a company this happens automatically.)
- Meet the criteria for EI, e.g. be the biological, adoptive, or legally recognized parents of a newborn or newly adopted child (I could not claim my taco bowl belly as a baby and get away with it.)
- Have your weekly wages reduced by more than 40% because of that baby at your house (You can’t claim your whole paycheck while you are off, however, some companies will top you off which is a total perk and a way many employers sweeten the pot to score great talent.)
- Have worked 600 insurable hours in the year before you claim the leave benefits (You can’t show up on your first job, first day of work and say “I’m giving birth tomorrow. See ya dorks!”)
If you qualify for EI then you, the employee, pay into it with every paycheck. Also, there is a maximum benefit you can receive. The amount you will receive is equal to 55% of your average weekly pay up to a maximum amount set by the government.
Let me sum up maternity leave in Canada
So basically, if you are enrolled in Employment Insurance then your Canadian employer will deduct money from each of your paychecks until your annual earnings reach the maximum amount. When you decide to take your maternity leave, you can then tap into the money you have put aside. If you decide to go back earlier, those reserves you've saved remain untouched.
I’m pretty sure that it’s not a perfect system but I would argue that it’s a pretty good one. Not only do parents get to spend more time with their kids if they choose to, but freelancers and part-time workers are constantly employed by maternity leaves.
We all deserve this
Honestly, I think many American families have just come to accept that this is the way it is – I’ll read comments like, “well, it was my choice to have a baby” – but I really do think that you deserve better. And I don’t just mean as a family, I mean as a country. You guys are creating the people that will run your country and wipe your old bums one day and I think parents should have more flexibility when it comes to raising them.
That’s just my Canadian opinion, though. I’m still jealous of your Targets, Trader Joe’s and inexpensive alcohol, so I’m not about to get all smug about it.
This great TED Talk from Jessica Shortall, The American Case for Paid Maternity Leave that also inspired me to pull out my soapbox and rant at my husband even though it affects him in no way shape or form. It’s worth a watch.