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How Does Maternity Leave Really Work in Canada?

pregnant woman in green dress

Preparing for motherhood is already a complex journey — especially if you’re a working mom planning for maternity leave in Canada.

While each person’s situation is unique (your employer might offer additional supplemental payments or benefits for maternal or parental leave, for example), understanding the potential Employment Insurance (EI) maternity and parental benefits available from the Government of Canada is a good place to start — well before your baby is born.

To help guide your research, we’ve rounded up answers to some of the most common questions about the ins and outs of maternity leave in Canada.

(Disclaimer: The following information refers to general government guidelines. Individual employers may have additional rules and regulations in place.)

Related: How much pregnancy can actually cost you in Canada.

hands holding a newborn baby

How long is maternity leave in Canada?

When people refer to “maternity leave” in Canada, they’re likely referring to the combination of maternity leave (which is up to 15 weeks) followed by parental leave (which lasts either up to 35 weeks for the standard option or up to 61 weeks for the extended option — more on this later).

What is the difference between maternity and parental leave?

In Canada, up to 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits are for biological mothers (including surrogate mothers) when they cannot work due to being pregnant or having just given birth. Maternity benefits can start before the expected day of birth (up to 12 weeks before), and can be completed as late as 17 weeks after the child’s date of birth.

EI parental benefits are offered to the parents of newborn or newly adopted children and could be used by the either partner (or split between two parents), whether they are biological, adopted, or legally recognized parents. Parental benefits can be received within specific periods from a child’s date of birth or date of placement when adopted. Standard parental benefits can last up to 35 weeks, and must be received within the first 52 weeks. Extended parental benefits can last up to 61 weeks, and must be used within 78 weeks.

See also: How much adoption actually costs in Canada.


Who is eligible for maternity and parental benefits in Canada?

In order to qualify for maternity and parental benefits, there’s certain criteria that has to be met.

For both EI maternity and parental benefits, an individual must meet the criteria for receiving benefits, including having accumulated a minimum of 600 hours of insurable employment in the qualifying period (or meet the criteria for self-employed individuals) and having your normal weekly earnings reduced by more than 40 per cent.

However, while following the guidelines should help you determine if you’re eligible, the Government of Canada will ultimately review your application and make a decision on your eligibility.

See also: 10 things to never say to someone with infertility (and what to say instead).

Can both parents receive EI parental benefits?

Both parents can apply to receive the benefits. If two parents are sharing benefits, they may also qualify for extra weeks of benefits (five weeks for the standard option, or eight weeks for the extended option) under the Parental Sharing Benefit, which began in 2019. However, when sharing parental benefits, one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks (standard) or 61 weeks (extended).

Also, both parents have to choose the same parental benefit option (standard or extended), and this decision is final as soon as a payment of benefits has been made.

Related: We debunk the most common pregnancy myths.

pregnant woman standing in nursery

How do I apply for EI maternity and parental benefits?

You can apply online for EI maternity and parental benefits (the application takes about an hour to complete, but it’s a good idea to choose your benefit options and collect required information and documents beforehand).

When should I apply?

While you’ll likely want to decide what route you want to take earlier, you can apply for EI benefits as soon as you stop working (you’ll need a Record of Employment from your employer, though you may be able to apply before you’ve received it, but after you’ve has your last day of work). Remember to apply as soon as possible, as you may lose benefits if you apply more than four weeks after your official last day of work.

You may also like: 20 adorable baby names inspired by nature.


How much is Canada maternity leave pay?

The actual amount of maternity and parental benefit payments depends on how much you make before you take your leave, and will be determined by the government. However, you can get an idea based on the current standard EI maternity benefit rates.

The basic rate for EI maternity benefits is 55 per cent of your average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum amount. As of January 1, 2021, that maximum yearly insurable earnings is $56,300 — which means that the maximum weekly amount is $595 (though benefits are paid every two weeks). If your income is higher than the maximum, you can still only receive benefit payments up to the set maximum amount (for example, if you make $75,000 yearly, you would still only be eligible for up to $595 weekly).

See also: Celeb moms who welcomed babies using a surrogate.

person holding a baby's hand as they walk outside

The basic rate for EI parental benefits depends on which option you choose:

If you opt for standard parental benefits, you can receive a weekly benefit rate of 55 per cent of your average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum amount (again, for 2021, this means a maximum amount of $595 per week) for up to 35 weeks.

If you choose extended parental benefits (which can last for up to 61 weeks), you can receive a weekly benefit rate of 33 per cent of your average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum amount. For 2021, the maximum amount you can receive per week is $357.

Do those living in Quebec receive the same benefits?

No. If you’re a resident of Quebec, your maternity and parental benefits don’t come from EI, but rather the Quebec Parental Insurance plan (which you can learn more about here).

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