How Maternity and Paternity Leaves Work in Canada

Learn how Canada’s comprehensive parental leave system works across all provinces.
A framed family photo places in an office desk.
Estimated read time
Written by
Psyche Castillon
Published on
September 30, 2022

Parental leave in Canada can seem complex. We’ll explain the mix of paid and unpaid leave for expecting parents.

Content at a glance

    A business can't run without employees, and it is vital to ensure they receive the benefits granted to them by their country's employment standards. In Canada, pregnant women and parents are guaranteed leaves and benefits to encourage them to take care of their families first without the worry of not having money while away from work.

    When you are looking to hire employees in Canada or establish a business or a corporation in Canada, knowing the leave entitlements and benefits of your employees is a must. To help you with your due diligence, we have created this comprehensive guide on maternity and parental leave in Canada.

    Maternity and parental leaves vs. benefits

    Maternity and parental benefits are granted by the federal government of Canada to qualified employees through the Employment Insurance (EI) and are uniform throughout the country. Benefits are the amount of money that the employee will get from the EI while they are on maternity and/or parental leave.

    Maternity leave on the other hand, is often used to refer to the combination of both the maternity (starts from 15 weeks) and parental leave (usually 35-61 weeks), which are two different leave entitlements that are usually taken one after the other.

    It is important to note that the type of benefit that the employee will first choose can no longer be changed after application.

    Maternity and parental leave

    The number of weeks off work an employee can get for maternity leave starts at 15 weeks and could last 19 weeks, depending on the province. Meanwhile, employees have two options for parental leave: standard and extended. Standard parental leave will give employees up to 52 weeks off and can be shared between parents, but one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks of leave. Extended parental leave will give them up to 78 weeks and can be shared between parents, but one parent cannot receive more than 61 weeks of leave.

    To differentiate between maternity and parental leave, maternity leave is given to the pregnant person or the one carrying the child, while parental leave is given to the parents, whether they are parents to a newly born child or a newly adopted child. Maternity and parental leaves also differ from one province to another and are illustrated in the table below.

    Paternity leave in Canada

    In Canada, there is no specific leave or benefit for fathers, known as paternity leave. Instead, parental leave is available to both or either parent.

    Maternity and parental leave by province

    Canada is comprised of different provinces and territories and each province has its own set of employment standards that dictate the leave entitlements for parents.

    Province / territory Earliest start of maternity leave before due date Maximum maternity leave Maximum parental leave Eligibility
    Alberta 13 weeks 16 weeks 62 weeks At least 90 days of employment
    British Columbia 13 weeks 17 weeks 61 weeks for pregnant parent; 62 weeks for the other parent n/a
    Manitoba 17 weeks 17 weeks 63 weeks 7 months of employment
    New Brunswick 13 weeks 17 weeks 62 weeks n/a
    Newfoundland and Labrador 17 weeks 17 weeks 61 weeks 20 weeks of employment
    Northwest Territories 17 weeks 17 weeks 61 weeks 12 months of employment
    Nova Scotia 16 weeks 16 weeks 61 weeks for pregnant parent; 77 weeks for the other parent n/a
    Nunavut 17 weeks 17 weeks 37 weeks 12 months of employment
    Ontario 17 weeks 17 weeks 61 weeks for pregnant parent; 63 weeks for the other parent 13 weeks of employment before due date
    Prince Edward Island 13 weeks 17 weeks 62 weeks 20 weeks of employment
    Quebec 16 weeks 18 weeks for maternity leave; 5 weeks for parental leave 65 weeks n/a
    Saskatchewan 13 weeks 19 weeks 59 weeks for pregnant parent or employee who took adoption leave; 71 weeks for other parent 13 weeks of employment
    Yukon n/a 17 weeks 63 weeks At least 12 months before application

    Maternity and parental benefits for Canadian employees

    Employees in Canada can receive maternity benefits of 55% of their earnings, up to a maximum of $638 a week, which is the standard amount across the country.

    Employees can receive parental benefits of either standard or extended. Standard benefits grant employees 55% of their earnings up to $638 per week, while extended benefits grant employees 33% of their earnings, up to $383 per week. It is important to note that while maternity benefits are available to surrogates, parental benefits are not.

    In the event of a miscarriage, termination, or stillbirth, employees may still be eligible for benefits. If the pregnancy ends before week 20, the employee may be eligible for EI sickness benefits; if the pregnancy ends in week 20 or later, the employee can receive maternity benefits, though paternal benefits are not available.

    How to qualify for maternity and parental benefits

    To qualify for benefits, an individual must show that:

    • They are pregnant or have recently given birth when requesting maternity benefits
    • They are a parent caring for their newborn or newly adopted child when requesting parental benefits
    • Their regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least 1 week
    • They have accumulated at least 600 insured hours of work in the 52 weeks before the start of the claim or since the start of the last claim, whichever is shorter

    Employees who take advantage of these benefits are required to provide notice to their employer at least four weeks before they go on leave. Employees are also responsible for planning and applying for their maternity benefits. Furthermore, employees are also required to give notice to their employees at least four weeks before they return to work.

    Who pays for the benefits

    The federal government, through the Employment Insurance (EI) program, pays for the benefits. Canadian employers are not required by law to pay for maternity or parental leave although they can provide extra benefits should they want to. It is common for many employers in Canada to top up employees on maternity or parental leave to 100% of their salary.

    Requirements for employers in Canada

    While Canadian employers are not required to pay for employee's maternity and parental benefits, they do have other legal obligations to employees on maternity or parental leave. Here are some of the employer obligations:

    1. Confidentiality duty - The employer must keep information about the pregnancy or adoption confidential.
    2. Accommodation for a safe environment - The employer must make special accommodations needed to ensure the health and safety of the employee. In Ontario and British Columbia, for example, employers are mandated by law to provide breastfeeding and milk expression rooms and storage facilities.
    3. Time off for medical appointments - The employer is obliged to give the employee time off for medical appointments related to the pregnancy, which can be paid or unpaid depending on the employer's internal workplace policies.
    4. Workload assignment - The employer is responsible for a course of action on the division of the workload to be left behind by the employee on leave. The employer can also decide to find a temporary replacement if re-assignment of workload is not feasible.

    Employers should note that, as in the United States, the pregnant employee cannot be terminated on the grounds of their pregnancy; otherwise, employers may be subject to discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuits.

    Moreover, Canadian employers should ensure that the employee's job remains available to them after they return from leave. If the role is no longer available, the employer is required to offer a similar role that is suited to their expertise and at the same or higher pay and benefits.

    In cases of back-to-back leaves, these are protected in Canada and employers have the same obligations for both pregnancies.

    One difference in Canadian maternity and parental leave benefits from other countries, including the United States, is the fact that it is the government that pays out these benefits and not the employer. When setting up a business in Canada, especially one with different locations across Canada, it pays to take note of the different national and provincial employment laws as employees are entitled to different maternity and parental leaves per province.

    How Thirdsail can help

    Having great leave policies for employees is key to helping you attract and retain top talent. If you're unsure where to start, we suggest working with an EOR like Thirdsail.

    Thirdsail helps companies around the world hire employees in Canada. We help you hire employees instantly without having to open a subsidiary and make sure employment is compliance with all employment requirements like maternity and parental leave.

    Learn more about how we can help you hire in Canada. If you have questions and would like to learn more about hiring employees across borders, get in touch today.

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