In recent years we have seen an increase in employee pregnancies in our company and I’m sure that most of you have seen the same. This can be tough on employers as Canada has one of the most generous maternity leave policies in place. Combined maternity and parental leave is a total of 52 weeks. That is one year!! This is extremely nice for a family but hard on an employer as you have to fill that gap for that year.
First, you cannot fire or demote an employee because they are pregnant. Even if that employee has not worked for you for 52 weeks, you still cannot fire them. You must accommodate your pregnant employee’s needs for the time that they are pregnant. They must still have access to all benefits, such as overtime, seniority and vacation time. You also cannot tell your employee when they are to start their leave. As long as that employee is up to it, they can work right until the day the baby is born. Pregnancy is a valid health reason to be away from work for appointments and such but it is in no way considered an “illness” or “disability”. Employers must be very cautious as to how they approach their pregnant employees as any misguided comment could become a labour standards issue.
Once an employee is off on Maternity leave, you are not obligated to provide any additional salary to them. New mothers can apply for Employment Insurance benefits as long as they are eligible. To receive maternity benefits, an employee is required to have worked for 600 hours in the last 52 weeks or since their last Employment Insurance claim. A mother can start collecting these benefits up to 8 weeks prior to their due date. It is the employee’s responsibility to advise their employer as to the start of their maternity leave. This should always be completed in writing and depending on the province of employment, an employee must provide anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks notice of their leave.
Upon completion of an employee’s maternity/parental leave, employees must provide their employer with a letter indicating the date of their return. A returning employee must be reinstated to their former position or to a position that is comparable with the same rate of pay and benefits that they had when they left. It is always best to consider hiring someone for a contract position so that when the employee does return to work, the contract person is aware that their position is complete. In addition to that, if the employee decides not to return, the contract can be extended for that current employee, without having to train someone new….again.
On that note, I sign off on my last blog as I too, will be on maternity leave as of December 31, 2009. Happy Holidays to everyone!