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Last week, Employment and Social Development Canada confirmed that new Employment Insurance (“EI”) parental, maternity and caregiving benefits will come into force on December 3, 2017. The new EI benefits were proposed in Federal Budget 2017 (see our previous blog post here) to support employees who need time off work due to life events. The key changes are outlined below.

Parental & Maternity Benefits

Parents, including adoptive parents, will have a choice of the following options at the time of their application:

  • standard benefit: 35 weeks of EI parental benefits over a period up to 12 months at 55% of average weekly earnings, to a maximum of $543/week;
  • extended benefit: 61 weeks of EI parental benefits over a period up to 18 months at 33% of average weekly earnings, to a maximum of $326/week.

The above choice will not be available to anyone receiving EI parental benefits before December 3rd. Women will also be able to claim EI maternity benefits earlier, up to 12 weeks before their due date. This option is intended to give expectant mothers increased flexibility in planning their maternity leave and permit them to consider their personal, health, and workplace circumstances when doing so.

Caregiving Benefits

Caregivers providing care to a critically ill or injured adult family member will have access to up to 15 weeks of benefits. In addition, immediate and extended family members of a critically ill child will have access to up to 35 weeks of benefits. Previously, this benefit was only available to parents of the ill child. Parents still have access to these benefits but they have flexibility to share the benefits with other family members.

Eligibility & Job Protection

Individual eligibility requirements for parental, maternity and caregiving EI benefits are unchanged ‒ the applicant needs 600 insurable hours of work in the 52 weeks preceding their claim. Employers should note that EI benefits are federal and therefore require certain provincial concurrence to have a practical impact on provincially regulated employees. Entitlements for job protected leaves for provincially regulated employees continue under the applicable provincial employment or labour standards legislation. Federally regulated employees will have job protection while they receive the new EI benefits as a result of amendments to the Canada Labour Code.

In Ontario, the provincial government recently introduced Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (“Bill 148”) with the aim of reforming the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”). The Bill 148 amendments include increasing the ESA’s parental leave entitlement from 35 weeks to 61 weeks for employees who take pregnancy leave, and from 37 weeks to 63 weeks otherwise. Bill 148 was debated on Second Reading (and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs) on October 18, 2017.

Key Takeaways

Employers can anticipate that employees will take advantage of the new EI benefit entitlements. Employers should be sure to take the new options under the EI benefit program 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. Employers should also watch for provincial concurrence such as what is being proposed in Ontario.