This summer, I am taking 2 months off work (paternity leave) to spend with my wonderful wife and our two beautiful sons. While fathers taking paternity leave is starting to become a bit more common, what surprises people is that I am taking this time off concurrently while my wife is also at home. Most people believe that if the father is taking paternity leave then the mother has to return to work, which might be why most Canadian fathers are still not taking advantage of this option. The reality is both parents are entitled to 37 weeks off work to take care of their newborns, it’s just that the language of the law is a bit confusing, and there is one somewhat important caveat.
To understand how the law works we need to first distinguish between the two different types of leaves.
The first type of leave is called Maternity Leave by Service Canada (the people who handle EI payments) and Pregnancy Leave by the Ontario Ministry of Labour (similarly for other provinces, but I’ll focus on Ontario since that’s where I live). This leave is 17 weeks long and is only available to biological birth mothers. The leave can be taken up to 17 weeks before the child’s due date all the way up to the date of birth, but not after. This leave is often “topped up” by employers to a certain percentage of the employees salary.
This leave can be taken at any time in the 52 weeks following the child’s birth and is between 35 and 37 weeks. It is available to both parents even at the same time. The Ministry of Labour website states:
Parental leave is not part of pregnancy leave and so a birth mother may take both pregnancy and parental leave. In addition, the right to a parental leave is independent of the right to pregnancy leave. For example, a birth father could be on parental leave at the same time the birth mother is on either her pregnancy leave or parental leave.
The leave is shortened from 37 to 35 weeks for the biological mother, if she already took the 17 weeks off for maternity/pregnancy leave, for a total maximum 52 weeks off. This leave is generally not topped-up by employers, something that catches many people by surprise in the second half of their leave. The drop in income from the topped up maternity leave to the EI-only parental leave can be very significant for many families.
How will taking paternity leave affect my prospects at my employer?
Some fathers may be afraid to take paternity leave in case it adversely affects their career. It’s important to know that fathers taking parental leave have the exact same rights as mothers taking maternity leave. This means:
- The right to reinstatement – You have to get your job back , or a similar one if yours is no longer available, at the same salary or higher.
- The right to be free from penalty – This means the employer cannot punish you in any way for taking the leave.
- The right to continue to participate in benefit plans – Your employer must continue paying their own share of the premiums on your insurance.
Why doesn’t everyone do this?
Most fathers don’t know that it’s even an option. While splitting parental leave between the mother and father is gaining in popularity, most families don’t seem to be aware that they can take parental leave at the same time.
How do I get paid?
There is always a catch right? While the Ministry of Labour allows concurrent parental leaves and protects both parents, Service Canada will not pay both parents EI. The following note can be found on the Service Canada website.
Can both parents apply for EI parental benefits?
Yes, but they have to share the benefits. In total, there are 35 weeks of parental benefits available to eligible parents of a newborn or newly adopted child.
There are many ways you can decide to use your parental leave. For instance, one of the parents can take the entire 35 weeks of benefits, or both parents can share them.
This means if you both want to stay home and take care of the newborn only one of you gets paid EI (Note: to clarify, it IS possible to both get paid EI at the same time, but the total of 35 weeks is shared between the two parents regardless, so it does not really make sense to do so unless you both plan to go back to work early). Since the maternity leave is often topped-up by your employer while the parental leave is not it’s best to have the mother claim the entire EI amount. This turns the fathers paternity leave into an unpaid leave.
While fathers are fully protected to stay home with their wife and newborn for up to 35 weeks after the baby is born, this is not a cheap option. Since only one parent can get paid EI at any one time, taking paternity leave requires some very careful financial planning. It’s important to save up not only for the paternity leave itself, but also for the reduced income after all the mothers employer top-ups run out.
I know it seems difficult to save up for a month or two off work and then have to deal with a reduced income afterwards. However, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’ve done it now twice, with both my sons. If you think about it, it’s really just a matter of making this time off a priority in your life. The EI that one of you will receive is worth $524 a week based on $49,500 a year salary. This means most people will get $2,270 a month from EI alone. Assuming a generous family budget of $5,000 a month, and no employer top up for the mother, this means you would need to save $2,730 per month off.
While $2,730 is not a trivial amount it is not more than a single week vacation to Mexico (2 people), far less than even a minor house renovation, and probably the same amount as the delivery fees you pay when you pick up your new car. It might only require getting a bit creative on your baby room expenses and toys. What would you rather have, a quartz counter-top in your bathroom that will be out of style 2 years after you install it, or a once in a lifetime experience spending a summer with your family?
You know what I would choose each and every single time!
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