Maternity and Parental Leave and Returning to Work

Welcoming a new child into your family is an exciting time for parents, but for many working moms and dads, it raises questions about what they can expect regarding maternity and parental leave and returning to work once that leave is over. In this article, we will answer some of the questions that you may have about this topic.

How much leave is an employee entitled to?

It depends. The amount of time you are entitled to depends on whether you are the birth parent, another parent, or an adoptive parent. Birth parents are entitled to maternity leave plus parental leave, while other parents are entitled to parental leave only. The BC Employment Standards Act and the federal Employment Insurance Act have different standards as to what parents are entitled to.

The breakdown of what parents are entitled to is as follows:

According to the BC Employment Standards Act

  • Birth parent – 17 weeks maternity leave plus 61 weeks parental leave for a total of 78 weeks.
  • Non-birth parent – 62 weeks parental leave

According to the Employment Insurance Act

  • Birth parent – 15 weeks maternity leave plus either regular parental leave of 40 weeks or extended parental leave of 69 weeks. (Note, that if parents choose the extended leave under EI, their benefits will be lower each week.)

Under both acts, the parental leave may be shared between both parents however the maternity leave is available only to the birth parent.

What does it look like when an employee is ready to return to work?

When an employee returns to work after maternity or parental leave, they are entitled to return to a position similar to the one they left. However, it is important to note that there are some exceptions to this.

For example, if the company that the employee was working for has undergone significant restructuring and a similar position no longer exists within the company, that employee could be let go while they are on maternity or parental leave. There must be a legitimate business reason for this to occur, and the person being let go must receive reasonable notice and severance pay just as they would had they not been on leave.

In most cases, though, the employee is entitled to go back to a job similar to the one they had prior to their leave. This does not necessarily mean the exact same position or office, but it does mean similar duties, the same level of pay, the same hours, and the same level of responsibility.

Can a full-time employee go back to work part-time?

Just as an employee is entitled to expect a similar job when they return, the employer is entitled to expect a similar commitment from the employee when they return. So the answer to this question is no – an employee cannot insist on only returning to work part-time.

However, employees who wish to return to work on a part-time basis could have that conversation with their employer to see if that is possible. Oftentimes employers recognize the value of good employees and will do their best to accommodate you if they can.

The one exception in which parents returning to the workplace may be able to insist on part-time hours is if they have grounds under the human rights code to require an accommodation. For example, if there is an issue with childcare or they have a special needs child who requires more of their time, a parent cannot be discriminated against on the basis of “family status.” Instead, the employer has a duty to accommodate, up to the point of undue hardship.

For more information

If you have further questions about maternity leave or returning to work, you may be able to find answers within the BC Employment Standards Act (you may try using the Guide to the BC ESA located on the provincial government website) as well as the resources provided by EI under the federal government website.

You may also contact Kent Employment Law to speak to an employment lawyer if you have questions that cannot be easily answered through an online search.

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