There are many reasons as to why an employee might initiate a leave of absence, though most common leaves of absences can be attributed to pregnancy (or maternity) leave and parental leave. 

As an employer, it’s crucial to take the time to understand the details of such leaves and your employees consequent rights. This knowledge will help you facilitate a proper leave for your employees, ensure they are taken care of, and understand how a leave of absence may impact your business. 

What is Pregnancy and Parental Leave?

In Ontario, If an employee is pregnant, they have the right to take up to 17 weeks of unpaid time off work, as per the ESA (Employment Standards Act). During the time that an employee is on pregnancy leave, an employer does not have to pay wages to that employee. 

Separate from pregnancy leave, parental leave is an option for all new parents — it is unpaid time off work when a baby or child comes into their care, including adoption. For example, an expectant father is qualified to take parental leave. 

Because they are different, a birth mother could technically take both pregnancy and parental leave, though this is nuanced depending on your location. 

As per the Ontario ESA, birth mothers who take pregnancy leave are entitled to take up to 61 weeks of parental leave; all other new parents (who don’t take pregnancy leave) can take up to 63 weeks of parental leave. 

While the amount of leave given to an employee has been regulated, keep in mind that government social service programs may alter some of these numbers — depending on the employer. 

Pregnancy and Parental Leave Across Canada

In this post, we focus on the regulations as per the Employment Standard Act (ESA), which applies to Ontario. Keep in mind that the regulations on pregnancy and parental leave will change depending on your location.

In Quebec, an employee is entitled to up to 18 consecutive weeks of leave (without pay), which can be taken before or after birth. For parental leave, an employee can take up to 65 weeks of leave – separate from maternity leave and paternity leave. In Quebec, paternity leave can encompass up to five weeks of time off. 

In Alberta, maternity leave is up to 16 weeks and parental leave is up to 62 weeks.

In British Columbia, a birth parent is entitled to up to 17 weeks for maternity or pregnancy leave (in addition to the maternity leave waiting period). Standard parental leave is up to 35 weeks, with the possibility to extend to 52 weeks (which would qualify as extended parental leave). 

In Manitoba, an employee is entitled to 17 weeks of maternity leave, and must give four weeks notice to their employer. Parental leave is 63 weeks long. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, an employee may take up to 52 weeks of parental leave, with the option to extend to 78 weeks. 

In Prince Edward Island, an employee is granted a maximum of 15 weeks of unpaid maternity leave and 35 weeks of unpaid parental leave. 

In Saskatchewan, employees are entitled to 19 weeks of maternity leave. Employees who take maternity or adoption leave are eligible for 59 weeks of parental leave. Parents who do not take maternity leave or adoption leave are eligible for up to 71 weeks. 

In the Yukon, Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, and Nunavut unpaid pregnancy leave is up to 17 weeks.  

As you can gather from this high-level overview, there are similarities across each province and territory, though there are differences as well. Be sure to check the websites we have linked to gain more information on the nuances around pregnancy and parental leave for each respective location. 

Below, we outline the nuances associated with the ESA (Ontario).  

Qualifying for Pregnancy and Parental Leave

In order for a pregnant employee to qualify for pregnancy leave, they must meet a few requirements. 

The employee:

  • Must be employed with an employer that is covered under the ESA 
  • Must have started their employment at least 13 weeks before the baby’s expected due date 

For reference, many industries are covered under the ESA, save for a few. Exemptions include those with occupations as lawyers/legal service providers, architects, engineers, teachers, public accountants, dentists, doctors, and firefighters. 

Pregnancy leave can begin as early as 17 weeks before the employee’s due date. The latest pregnancy leave can begin on the baby’s due date — this is important to note in the situation that a pregnant employee gives birth before their expected due date, which certainly does happen. As such, leave would begin on a different date than originally planned. 

Important to note is who the ESA considers “a parent.” A parent can include a birth parent, an adoptive parent, as well as “a person who is in a relationship of some permanence with a parent of the child and who plans on treating the child as their own.” The ESA notes that this includes same-sex couples. 

Typically, parental leave for a birth mother must begin as soon as their pregnancy leave ends. 

For all other parents, parental leave must begin no later than 78 weeks after their baby is born, or the day their baby comes into their care/custody. 

Of course, there are many nuances to these matters – for more insight into individualized situations, check out the ESA’s website. And to learn more about varying qualifications for different locations across Canada, check out your location’s government website.  

Notice Requirements

An employee must provide their employer with at least two weeks’ written notice before taking pregnancy leave. 

In the event that a pregnant employee has to take leave earlier than expected (complications caused by the pregnancy), they have two weeks after they stop working to give that written notice. 

If a pregnant employee’s due date changes, they can start their leave at a different date so long as they give their employer new written notice at least two weeks before the new, earlier due date. 

Same goes for parental leave – an employee must provide at least two weeks’ written notice before beginning a parental leave. 

Keep in mind that the requirements for notice will change depending on your location. 

Your Employees’ Rights

Leaves of absences can inevitably affect your business — as such, it’s important to prepare, and know the rights of your employees.

When an employee returns from either pregnancy or parental leave, they’re entitled to be reinstated into the job they previously worked before taking leave. In the event that their job no longer exists (which can definitely happen due to restructuring, down-sizing, and a variety of other issues), the employee should be entitled to a job that is comparable. 

This is important: an employee MUST be paid the same amount of compensation they previously received before taking leave. 

If wages went up during their leave, the employee is entitled to this higher wage. 

During the time that your employee is on leave, it’s important to prepare ahead of time and hire additional support. Contract positions are a go-to solution when an employee goes on pregnancy or parental leave, and are a great short-term option for employers. 

HR You Can Rely On

Leaves of absences typically fall under Human Resource issues.

If you’re looking for a system that keeps your business compliant, or helps you to support your team, check out HX, our very own Human Resources service designed to have your back.  

With compliance and consulting services, we can help you sort through the details associated with leaves of absences as well as other human resource matters.