Introduction

On November 9 2017 the federal government announced that changes to the employment insurance programme relating to parental, maternity and caregiving benefits would come into effect on December 3 2017. The employment insurance programme provides temporary income support to partially replace lost employment income for individuals who are off work for various reasons.

On November 7 the federal government announced legislation (Bill C-65) to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act 2017. Bill C-65 would strengthen existing laws on the prevention of harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces.

Changes to employment insurance benefits

The federal government's changes to the rules around maternity, parental and caregiving benefits – which were first announced in the 2017 Federal Budget – involve three things.

First, the period during which employment insurance maternity benefits are payable to a birth mother has been extended to start 12 weeks before her due date. Previously, employment insurance maternity benefits were payable eight weeks before the employee's due date and ending 17 weeks after the birth of the child, for a maximum of 15 weeks. The total number of weeks of employment insurance maternity benefits payable remains capped at 15 weeks.

Second, parents can now choose to receive employment insurance parental benefits:

  • at the lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings for up to 61 weeks (ie, over an additional 26-week period); or
  • at the existing rate of 55% of average weekly earnings over the existing 35-week period.

Parental benefits are offered per family and may be shared – they can be taken at the same time or separately. Notably, amendments to the Canada Labour Code came into effect on December 3, extending the maximum protected parental leave period to 63 weeks to coincide with the new employment insurance parental benefit period.

Third, a new family caregiving benefit – which allows eligible employees to receive up to 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits in a 52-week period – now applies to those providing care or support to an adult family member who is critically ill. In order to qualify, the family member's life must be at risk as a result of illness or injury and he or she must have experienced a significant change in baseline state of health.

Preventing harassment and violence

Bill C-65 would not only enact stronger protections against harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces, but also parliamentary workplaces, including the House of Commons. The federal government has also indicated that the reference to harassment and violence is intended to cover everything from workplace bullying and sexual harassment to physical or sexual violence.

Pursuant to the legislation, employers would be required to:

  • take steps to prevent and protect employees against harassment and violence in the workplace;
  • respond to incidents when they occur; and
  • offer support to affected employees.

The legislation would also provide employees with a choice of an informal resolution process or neutral third-party investigation. However, the legislation does not contain penalties where a complaint of harassment or violence is substantiated. This is left up to the employer to decide.

Implications for employers

The new employment insurance benefit periods are expected to affect federally regulated employers the most. Federally regulated employers should examine their existing leave policies and any collective bargaining agreements to ensure that they are consistent with the changes being made in terms of leave periods. They should also consider the effect of increased leave periods on any top-up of employment insurance benefits that they provide and make any necessary changes.

With regard to parental leave, while federally regulated employees will have job protection corresponding with the new employment insurance parental benefit period, employees who work for provincially regulated employers will not be entitled to leave periods that correspond with the new employment insurance parental benefit period unless provincial employment standards legislation is amended similarly to the changes made to the Canada Labour Code.

Bill C-65 is currently in its first reading in the House of Commons. As a result, it is likely to be some time before its true implications for federally regulated employers are known.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.

For further information on this topic please contact Clayton Jones at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP by telephone (+1 416 366 8381) or email (cjones@fasken.com). The Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP website can be accessed at www.fasken.com.