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Nelligan O’Brien Payne gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Adam Soliman, Student-at-Law in writing this blog post.

The Government of Canada announced last September that it would be rolling out a new Employment Insurance (EI) Parental Sharing Benefit. The roll-out was scheduled to take effect in June 2019 but is now available as of March 17, 2019.

Not to be confused with the 18-month extended leave, the new Parental Sharing Benefit will provide non-birthing parents with a “use it or lose it” benefit of 5 or 8 weeks of leave.

The Parental Sharing Benefit is intended to promote greater gender equality. It is designed to encourage all parents to take the opportunity to take leave when welcoming a new child. The goal is to work towards equalizing the workload of early-stage parenting.

Fostering an environment where fathers take parental leave is conducive to creating better, more responsive male leaders, according to Dr. Michael Kaufman. As the Toronto author of The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join The Gender Equality Revolution recently told a Canadian publication, benefits of parental leave extend beyond the home and into the work environment. Employers benefit from leaders who are better listeners and more receptive to the needs of their company and staff.

Quebec introduced five additional weeks of non-transferrable parental leave for fathers in 2006.   The results were noteworthy. The number of fathers who took parental leave in Quebec increased dramatically from 27.8% in 2005 to 85.8% in 2015.

  • How does the Parental Sharing Benefit work?

To qualify, parents must first be eligible for EI benefit. Then they must select the same parental leave option, and the additional five weeks (or eight weeks) can only be taken by a second parent.

The number of weeks available will depend on whether parents choose the standard option (12 months of leave at 55% of income) or the extended option (18 months of leave at 33% of income).

The standard option provides couples with a collective 40 weeks of parental leave (an additional 5 weeks).

The extended option provides couples with a collective 69 weeks of parental leave (an additional 8 weeks).

Remember, these additional weeks of parental leave are only available to the second parent. If the mother takes the entire parental leave, she is not then entitled to the extra weeks.

It should also be noted that although the Federal Government is providing 69 weeks of benefits to a non-birthing parent, the Ontario Government only provides parental leave protections to a non-birthing parent for 63 weeks. If a father wanted to take the full 69 weeks, he would have to discuss this with his employer and ask for permission to remain on leave. The employer does not have to permit this extra leave.

For more on the 18-month leave, please see my article published by CBC.ca in November 2017. In it I highlight concerns about the actual flexibility that this program could provide, given that most Canadian families are unable to support their families on $362 per week.

  • How will this affect Employees?

Parents with children born or placed for adoption on or after March 17, 2019, are now eligible.

The Parental Sharing Benefit is by no means just for fathers. Adoptive parents and same-sex parents who agree to share parental benefits are entitled to an additional five weeks of parental leave, or eight weeks if they choose the extended parental benefit option.

According to the Government of Canada, rolling out this benefit three months sooner means that more than 24,000 additional parents could benefit from this measure.

Is my job protected?

Yes, absolutely. An employee who takes parental leave is entitled to the same job, or a comparable job, when they return from leave. Your employer is prohibited from penalizing you for taking parental leave. The seniority you have earned at your workplace is kept intact, and you are still entitled to your benefits while on leave. Your employer may or may not provide top-up of your salary while you are on leave, but they are not required to do so.

What happens if my employer refuses?

Provided that you give notice, your employer cannot refuse your request for parental leave. If so, they face the prospect of legal sanction under the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) and the Human Rights Code.

Be sure to give your employer two weeks’ notice, as is required by section 48 of the ESA. If your child arrives sooner than expected – whether by adoption or birth – you should maintain written communication with your employer to that effect. In that event, your parental leave is deemed to begin on the day you stop working, and you are required to give your employer written notice within two weeks after stopping work.

  • How will this affect Employers?

Employers need to prepare for and accommodate requests for parental leave.

Employees should also keep their employer informed of important decisions. For example, if an employee decides to end their parental leave early, this must be communicated to the employer, in writing, at least four weeks before the scheduled return date. Employees must also give their employer at least four weeks written notice should they choose not to return after their scheduled parental leave. This is especially important for small, family-owned businesses.

This trend towards a greater role for fathers in early childhood parenting shows no signs of abating. Prince Harry is reported to be taking parental leave after the birth of his first child.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Jill Lewis, a lawyer with our Employment Group

Author(s)

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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