The most recent federal budget proposes to make EI parental benefits more flexible. Proposed changes will allow parents to choose to receive EI parental benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33 percent of average weekly earnings. EI parental benefits will continue to be available at the existing benefit rate of 55 percent over a period of up to 12 months.

Budget 2017 also proposes to allow women to claim EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date — expanded from the current standard of 8 weeks — if they so choose.

To implement these measures, Budget 2017 proposes to amend the Employment Insurance Act. The Government also proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors have the job protection they need while they are receiving caregiving, parental or maternity benefits. Workers in provincially regulated sectors will have to wait and see if provincial legislation will also be changed to extend job protection for 18 months. Without job protection, the flexibility to receive EI benefits over a longer period of time will be meaningless.

If an 18 month maternity and parental leave provision were to be legislated in the applicable statutes, what are the types of things that an employer would have to consider?

  • Employers would have to review their current maternity and parental leave benefits policies. If such policies provide for a top up of EI benefits, the language of the policy would have to be reviewed in order to determine whether the policy would automatically entitle someone to a top up for 18 months and whether any changes to such language were necessary. If employers did not wish to, or could not afford to, top up EI benefits for the full 18 months, they may consider alternatives such as mimicking the 2017 budget concept of stretching current benefits over an 18 month period as opposed to paying more. Another option employers could consider would be to top up to 100 per cent for the first year, and 75 per cent for the extra six months. In any case, employers would have to review their policies to ensure they reflect what the company wishes to, and can afford, to do.
  • Employers will have to review their benefits programs and perhaps renegotiate with their benefits providers to determine whether benefit coverage will be or can be available during a longer leave.
  • Employers will have to consider whether any additional measures will have to be taken to reintegrate an employee who will be out of the workplace for an additional 6 months. Will there be any additional training requirements or updates that will be necessary?
  • And of course, employers will have to continue to consider how to appropriately staff their workplace in the face of longer absences and determine whether re-distribution to existing employees will be feasible or whether hiring a temporary replacement will be necessary.

Budget 2017 and the changes it proposes to employment insurance benefits will certainly have an impact on Canadian families, but it will also have an interesting effect on Canadian workplaces.