Understanding your right to parental leave

Hailey DeWitt Williams
Biz/Tech Reporter

Protection legislation is important when it comes to maternal and parental leave, according to proponents.

These kinds of policies are needed to combat discrimination against women in the workplace, advocates say. They are also needed to promote equal opportunities to same-sex couples and the growing number of fathers who are primary caregivers.

Audrey Taves, president of Humber Faculty Union, said research shows an infant having their primary caregiver with them in that first year is critical for psychological and physiological development.

In Canada, the Employment Standards Act provides up to 52 weeks of leave, almost all paid. Employees get up to 17 weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave prior to birth and 35 weeks parental leave afterwards.

New parents are also entitled to 37 weeks of paid parental leave after a baby is born to another person or adopted. The employee must have worked for an employer for at least 13 weeks to be covered by the ESA.

Employment Standards Information Centre (ESIC) representative, Michelle Wright said a claim can be filed if an employer does not provide the minimum allotted time to eligible employees.

If an employee who gave birth felt they needed more time off, they can request it but there are strict conditions.

“Only some sort of medical concern with the child or mother could allow for extra time off,” said Wright.

Benefits are provided by provincial employment insurance plans. If eligible the parent will receive 55 per cent of their salary with a maximum of $485 per week. If employers don’t offer benefits, the parent can apply for employment insurance if they are eligible.

“It’s very generous compared to what they have in the U.S.” said Taves. “But it’s not so generous compared to what they have in Europe, so we’re kind of middle of the road.”

In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. That is the combined total offered to eligible spouses after a baby is born or adopted. The employee must have worked for at least 12 months at a company with 50 or more employees.

A study on the FMLA by Christopher J. Ruhm in the Journal of Economic Perspectives estimated that “between 60 and 66 per cent of employees work for covered employers while 83 percent of persons at these establishments worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months. Some of these individuals will not meet the one-year job tenure requirement and so will not be eligible… Thus, a maximum of 55 per cent of employed individuals are covered under the FMLA.”

The study also estimated that just 19 per cent of new mothers are eligible for FMLA.

“A lot of women in the States just take two to four weeks off, and some don’t even take that, because they don’t get any pay,” said Taves.

According to a study released by the United Nation’s labor agency, the U.S. is the only developed country without paid maternity leave laws. The study collected data on 185 countries and all but three (United States, Oman, and Papau New Guinea) provided some sort of paid maternity leave to workers.

“Canadians have a much more interventionist government in terms of social programs, the U.S. does not,” said Taves. “I think it’s really important for people to understand that we pay so much for Canadian taxes because we have a lot of social systems supports that they don’t have in the U.S.”

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