On March 22, 2017, the Canadian Federal Government released Budget 2017: Building a Strong Middle Class (“Budget 2017”) which proposes more flexible parental, maternity and caregiving leaves and Employment Insurance (“EI”) benefits to support employees in balancing work and their family responsibilities.
Parental & Maternity Leave
More Flexible EI Benefits. Budget 2017 proposes changes to give parents a choice between receiving EI parental benefits for up to 18 months at a rate of 33% of average weekly earnings, or up to 12 months at the existing benefit rate of 55%. Budget 2017 proposes to allow women to claim EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, instead of the current standard of 8 weeks.
Longer Job Protected Leave. Budget 2017 also proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code (“CLC”) which would afford job protection to employees while they are receiving parental or maternity benefits – such changes would apply only to federally regulated employers.
New EI Benefit. A new EI caregiving benefit was also introduced in Budget 2017. Currently, EI benefits are available in cases where a loved one is gravely ill and at significant risk of death, or where a child is critically ill or injured. The new caregiving benefit would cover a broader range of situations for individuals providing care to an adult family member in need of support during their recovery from critical illness or injury and would provide up to 15 weeks of EI benefits for eligible caregivers. Parents of critically ill children will still be able to access up to 35 weeks of benefits, but will have additional flexibility to share these benefits with other family members.
New Job Protected Leave. Budget 2017 also proposes changes to the CLC which would afford job protection to employees while they are receiving caregiving benefits – such changes would apply only to federally regulated employers.
Existing leave provisions under provincial employment or labour standards legislation remain unchanged by Budget 2017. The provinces continue to have jurisdiction over job protected leaves in their legislation. However, it is foreseeable that the provinces will amend their legislation to correspond with the proposed amendments to the CLC.
Employers should anticipate that employees will be taking longer periods of leave to fulfill their family responsibilities. Employers should accordingly take longer leave durations into account in their workforce planning, including budgeting for hiring replacement workers where needed. In addition, employers that offer top-up of EI benefits for the duration of parental or maternity leave should review their workplace policies, individual employment agreements and collective agreements to ascertain what obligations they may have as a result of these changes.