Let's Talk About LEAVES

Part I - Maternity and Parental

As a Canadian employee, you have the ability to take a job-protected leave from work when you become a parent, whether for the first time or the third. Employment laws throughout Canada allow individuals to take time off during pregnancy, upon the birth of their child, or, in the case of adoption, upon the child joining the family.

Below we outline some of the basic facts regarding maternity and parental leaves. We recommend you review this blog post in conjunction with our post, Let's Talk about LEAVES – At a Glance Chart – Maternity and Parental Leaves.

Federally Regulated Employees

If your employment falls under the federal category, your statutory leave protections fall under the Canada Labor Code (CLC). Unlike some of the provincial statutes, the CLC provides maternity and parental related leave entitlements to all employees, regardless of how long they have worked for the employer. You may be required to provide appropriate medical documentation, however, on the request of your employer:

Maternity-related Reassignment and Leave:

  • An employee who is pregnant or nursing may, from the beginning of their pregnancy through to the 24th week following birth, request the employer modify their job functions or reassign them to another job if continuing any of their current job functions may pose a risk to their health, or the health of their foetus or child.
  • If the employer needs time to consider the request, the employee is entitled to a paid leave of absence until a decision is made.
  • If the employer concludes a modification or reassignment is not reasonably practicable, the employee is entitled to an unpaid leave of absence for the duration of the health risk.

Alternatively, an employee who is pregnant or nursing may take an unpaid leave of absence during the period from the beginning of their pregnancy to the 24th week following birth, if they provide the employer with a medical certificate indicating that they cannot work and the duration of that inability.

Maternity-related reassignment leave is distinct from an employee's entitlement to maternity and parental leave.

Maternity Leave:

  • An employee may take a maternity leave as early as 13 weeks before their estimated date of confinement.
  • The employee may take a maternity leave of up to 17 weeks.
  • The 17-week maternity leave may be extended if (a) the confinement has not occurred during the period of leave, or (b) the child who is born is hospitalized.

Parental Leave:

  • An employee with a new-born child or a child who is the care of the employee for the purpose of adoption may take up to 63 weeks of parental leave.
  • The 63 weeks must fall within the 1.5 year (78 week) period of the child being born or coming into the employee's care.
  • This 1.5 year period may be extended if (a) the employee is absent on other specific leaves, such as medical leave or (b) the child is hospitalized. In total, the period must not be longer than 104 weeks.
  • If both parents work for the same employer, they may share parental leave to access an additional 8 weeks of leave. The total amount of shared parental leave available is 71 weeks.

If one employee takes maternity and parental leave under the CLC, the total amount of leave is capped at 78 weeks. Parents who share maternity and parental leave under the CLC can take a combined total of 86 weeks of leave.

Provincially Regulated Employees

If your employment falls under provincial category, your statutory maternity and parental leave protections are governed by your province's employment standards laws. The maximum amount of combined maternity and parental leave varies from province, ranging from 1 year to approximately 1.5 years.

Like federally-regulated employees, there are conditions you have to meet to fall under these leave protections:

  • In some provinces, you have to have worked a certain amount of time continuously for the same employer to qualify.
  • Once eligible, and if you wish to take a leave, you have to give your employer written notice.
  • There are requirements on how much notice you have to give your employer.
  • If your condition affects your ability work, your employer may be able to require you to take a leave earlier or longer than you wish.
  • You can change when you want your leave to start or end, with notice to your employer.


During your leave, your employer has to continue all of the employee benefits and perks you ordinarily enjoy, whether or not required by law. This includes things such as statutory entitlements such as continued accrual of vacation and seniority. It also includes other health and dental benefits, employee discounts, gym membership, and such perks, that are not required by law.

That being said, you may opt out. For example, you may not wish to pay for the employee portion of the benefit premiums while you are on leave, and as a result, wish to have your participation in the benefits suspended until you return.

Apart from these types of benefits and entitlement accrual, unless your employer offers a top up plan, your maternity and parental leave is unpaid. You may turn to EI benefits if you qualify.

What if you do not qualify?

As noted above, you may have to meet certain conditions before qualifying for maternity and parental leave under either the Canada Labour Code or the provincial employment standards laws. The conditions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, ranging from 13 weeks of continuous employment with the same employer, to a full year.

What if you do not meet the conditions? Does that mean you do not get a maternity or parental leave?

You likely will be able to find room under human rights laws that are different, but related, to take time off through your pregnancy or to care for your child. You may not be able to enjoy the same extent of rights, however, and your entitlement to a job-protected leave is not guaranteed. Nonetheless, you may be able to take a leave despite not meeting the conditions.

Job protection?

We know these are job-protected leaves, but what exactly does that mean?

It simply means an employee cannot be treated differently or adversely simply because the employee is taking or has taken a statutory leave. Apart from that, there is no guarantee that you will go back to the exact same job as before. If the job legitimately disappears due to restructuring, for example, you may be placed in a comparable position. If your employer is letting you take a leave despite not meeting the required conditions under the applicable legislation, there may be limitations on the protections afforded to you.

Different or adverse treatment includes:

  • Getting fired
  • Unwarranted demotion
  • Unjustified disciplinary actions or punishment
  • Wage reduction
  • Stripping of responsibilities
  • Noticeable behavioral change
  • And others

If you find yourself in any of the above situations, do not wait. Call to speak with your employment lawyer.