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Parental Leave 101: Your burning questions answered.

Over the past few months,we’ve been getting a lot of questions about parental leave:

While many of these questions are about the basics, there are some great ways employers can support new and expecting parents. Before diving in, let’s review some of the basics:

What’s the difference between Maternity and Parental Leave? These terms tend to be used interchangeably, but there are differences:

Maternity Leave: is the time off work granted to exclusively to birth mothers immediately leading up to and after the birth of a baby. Maternity leave covers 16 weeks surrounding the birth and is used for supporting the physical and medical stress of giving birth. Birth mothers must take six weeks at minimum (some exceptions apply).

Parental Leave: is the time off work granted to the birth parent, other parent, or adoptive parents following the birth or adoption of a child. Parental leave covers up to 62 weeks of leave. Parental leave can start any time after the birth or adoption of a child with the purpose being to provide time for bonding and care of the new child.

Do I have to approve parental leave? In Alberta, if the employee is eligible for the leave, yes. This is a job-protected leave, where the employee is entitled to their same or equivalent job when they return to work.

How does pay work? Alberta Employment Standards dictates the time away from work and Service Canada dictates the benefit for those eligible for EI.

For eligible employees, EI may pay up to 55% of the employee's salary, to a max of $650 per week. We always recommend guiding employees to review their eligibility with Service Canada well in advance. An important piece to note is that parents may be eligible to share some of the benefit without it ‘taking away’ from the pay or time that the birth mother would normally receive.

So now that we know about the basics, what are some ways that we can support our employees while on maternity and/or parental leave?

Wage Top Ups: Many SMEs support this time away from work by providing wage ‘top ups’ to their employees. These top ups can be for the full length of time, part of the time (ex. 16 weeks), and are usually based on a percentage of salary to keep the employee ‘whole’. In some instances, employees are only eligible after a pre-determined number of years of service.

Continuation of Benefits: Another great option is working with your benefits provider to offer a continuation of benefits, with employer-paid premiums. This will allow parents to maintain coverage during a potentially long period of time and reduce any financial or medical hardship they might experience otherwise.

Paid Time Off Accruals: If your organization offers accrued paid time off (flex days, personal days, etc.), consider continuing the accruals while the employee is on leave. By continuing this time, it supports the parents when they return to work by providing paid time that they may need to care for their child due to illness, vaccines, medical appointments, etc.

Return to Work: Coming back to work after a significant life event and a long time away can create a mix of thoughts and emotions. Making sure you have a really great return to work plan and process in place for those employees and their supervisors can help navigate those challenges. For leaders, it’s important to make sure they connect with their employees before they return and build a flexible plan that helps ease them back into the work environment.

Remember, when determining any benefit or policy changes, we need to ensure that all programs are applied consistently to all eligible employees, and they are equitable, inclusive, and non-discriminatory.


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