What is maternity leave? Will I be able to keep my job?

What is maternity leave?

For working parents-to-be, preparing for a new baby requires a lot more planning than just choosing the perfect name. One question your employer may ask is, “Will you be taking any leave?”

Under Alberta’s Employment Standards, you may be eligible to take unpaid time off work to care for a new child. You can’t be laid off solely because you’re on a maternity leave, unless the business has been closed or suspended. After your leave, you may return to your job. Sounds great, right? But not everyone qualifies for maternity leave so check the rules to see if you are eligible.

Qualifications

To qualify, you must have worked at least 90 days (full-time or part-time) for the same employer. If you’ve worked less, your employer does not have to grant leave (though some still do). If you’re a self-employed contractor rather than an employee, you may not be eligible, either. To see if you are eligible, talk to Alberta’s Employment Standards team at 1-877-427-4731.

Who can take maternity leave?

Only birth mothers can take maternity leave (your employer may ask for a medical certificate confirming pregnancy). However, parental leave is open to any biological or adoptive parent.

Tip: If you are unable to take maternity or parental leave, you may qualify for some other form of time off. Examples include sick leave for birth mothers or vacation time for either parent.

Maternity vs. Parental Leave

Maternity leave lasts up to 16 consecutive weeks. While leave can start before the baby’s due date, at least six weeks must be used after birth. This gives the mom some time to recover.

Parental leave lasts up to 37 weeks. One parent can use all of these weeks or both parents can split them. Parents sharing parental leave can take it at the same time or at different times, as long as the total doesn’t go over 37 weeks.

Planning

If a birth mother takes parental leave, it must start right after her maternity leave. The other parent can start parental leave at any point after the child’s arrival. They must finish the leave within 52 weeks of the child’s arrival.

You don’t have to use all the leave weeks available. You do, however, need to let your employer know your plans so they can plan for your absence. They’ll need written notice at least six weeks before the start of your leave and four weeks before the end of your leave.

It’s important to figure out how you’ll live with less available income while on leave.

Assistance

First, check if your employer offers any paid benefits during maternity or parental leave. Some workplaces have programs that pay a portion of an employee’s salary or cover certain benefits while on leave.

Next, see if you’re eligible for paid benefits through the federal Employment Insurance (EI) program.

To qualify, you must have worked a minimum of 600 hours in the previous year (or since your last EI claim) in a job covered by EI. You must also show that your regular weekly earnings have dropped by more than 40% because of your leave.

Even self-employed people may collect EI maternity or parental benefits if they’ve registered for the program. Make sure you understand the overall costs of being on self-employed EI.

How much will I get?

If you qualify for EI, you could receive 15 weeks of maternity benefits and 35 weeks of parental benefits.

Typically, you must use your parental benefits within a year of your child’s arrival.

How much money you’ll get from EI depends on your income. Usually, you’ll receive 55% of your average weekly earnings up to a maximum amount ($543 per week in 2017). The Canadian government plans to introduce a new option later in 2018. This option would allow parents to stretch these payments over 18 months instead of a year at a lower rate of 33%.

To receive EI maternity and parental benefits, apply to Service Canada online. For maternity benefits, apply whenever you start your leave, even if that’s before your child is born. For parental benefits, apply as soon as you can after you stop working. You could lose benefits if you don’t apply within four weeks of your last work day.

Tip: Budgeting skills can help your family adjust to leaner finances during your time off.

Congratulations on welcoming a new child to your family! The Calgary Immigrant Educational Society encourages you to check out our Employment Skills Training and Pre-and-Post Canadian Workplace Training programs where we discuss leaves and other issues important for Alberta workers.

You can also find in-depth workplace information for new parents in the province’s “Becoming a Parent in Alberta” booklet. Click here to learn how the Alberta Human Rights Code ensures that you cannot be discriminated against in your workplace, fired or forced to resign because you are pregnant.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

Thanks to Jessica Whiteside for help with this guide. If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.