On December 3, 2017, the federal government’s changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program, originally announced in the 2017 Federal Budget, took effect. The changes are as follows:
- Parental Benefits: Parents will now be able to choose between the existing (standard) parental benefits (taken over 12 months, at the current benefit rate of 55 percent of average weekly earnings, for up to 35 weeks, to a maximum of $543 per week in 2017) and a new class of extended parental benefits (taken over 18 months, at a lower benefit rate of 33 percent of average weekly earnings, for up to 61 weeks, to a maximum of $326 per week in 2017).
- Maternity Benefits: Eligible pregnant workers will be able to receive 15 weeks’ EI maternity benefits earlier (up to 12 weeks before their due date, rather than 8).
- Family Caregiver Benefit for Adults: Eligible workers will receive up to 15 weeks of benefits to provide care or support to a family member 18 years of age or older who is critically ill.
- Family Caregiver Benefit for Children: Eligible family members will receive up to 35 weeks of benefits while providing care or support to a child under 18 years of age who is critically ill. The definition of family member will be broadened to include relatives beyond the immediate family and individuals who are not relatives but are considered to be like family.
- Compassionate Care Benefits: A medical certificate signed by a medical doctor or nurse practitioner will now be acceptable when applying for the Compassionate Care benefit.
These changes will apply to EI-eligible workers and self-employed workers who opt into the EI program and meet the minimum income and other requirements to qualify for EI special benefits.
The Canada Labour Code will also be amended to provide employees in federally regulated workplaces with job protection while in receipt of maternity, parental and caregiver benefits under the EI program.
Employees in provincially and territorially regulated workplaces are also entitled to job protection during statutory leave periods, as set out in provincial/territorial employment standards legislation. These entitlements vary by province/territory and do not match the leave periods available under the Canada Labour Code.
As discussed in our previous post, the Ontario Employment Standards Act has been amended by Bill 148 in order to harmonize its leave provisions with the amended EI benefits program. Bill 148 will put in place the following changes, effective on December 3, 2017:
- New Critical Illness Leave. An employee who has been employed by his or her employer for at least 6 consecutive months will be entitled to take leave to provide care and support to any critically ill family member. In the case of a critically ill minor child, an employee is entitled to up to 37 weeks of leave and in the case of a critically ill adult, an employee is entitled to up to 17 weeks of leave.
- Extended Parental Leave. The entitlement to parental leave will be increased from 35 weeks to 61 weeks for employees who take pregnancy leave and from 37 weeks to 63 weeks otherwise. The new provisions will only apply where a parental leave begins on January 1, 2018 or later.
- Existing contracts, policies and precedents of federally-regulated employers and provincially regulated Ontario employers may not have been drafted with more extensive parental and caregiver leave periods in mind.
- Employers may be faced with possible misunderstandings by employees of provincially-regulated companies about how the federal changes affect them.
- Federally-regulated employers must be aware of the extended leave provisions under the Canada Labour Code and amend any employment contracts or policies that may be impacted.
- Provincially-regulated employers in Ontario must be aware of the newly extended leave provisions under the Ontario Employment Standards Act and amend any employment contracts or policies that may be impacted (for further details as to the widespread changes put in place by Bill 148 and a list of action items, see our previous post).
- Provincially-regulated employers should be prepared to answer employee questions about extended parental and caregiver leave, in the context of governing provincial legislation that may not be in sync with the EI provisions (in particular for provinces other than Ontario).
- All employers should be aware of the changes to EI benefits as they may impact any top-up policies (i.e. supplementary benefits programs provided to employees on leave) currently in place.