Parental Leave in Ontario – Frequently Asked Questions
Author: David Ertl, Employment Lawyer
- What is parental leave?
In Ontario, parental leave is an absence from work commencing after the baby is born.
Section 48 of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 explains who is entitled to take a parental leave in Ontario, stating that an employee who has been employed for at least 13 weeks by their employer and who is a parent of a child that they give birth too or a child who comes into the custody, care and control of the employee for the first time.
- What is the difference between parental leave and pregnancy leave?
Parental leave is for both parents. Pregnancy leave, or maternity leave, is only for birth mothers.
Parental leave is 63 weeks and must be taken after the baby is born. Pregnancy leave is for 17 weeks and must be taken before the baby is born. Birth mothers are entitled to both parental and pregnancy leave.
Paternal leave does not exist in Ontario and any fathers wishing to take time off work for this reason must take Parental leave.
- Is parental leave paid?
No, parental leave is not paid. Employers have the option to pay any amount to employees for all or some of a parental leave but they are not obligated to.
Your employer is required to continue certain benefits (health, dental) while on leave.
The federal government does offer EI benefits for both maternity and parental leave.
- Who qualifies for parental leave?
Any parent who has been employed by an employer for 13 weeks is entitled to parental leave. This does not mean that the employee actually worked the last 13 weeks but that the employee worked 13 weeks for the employer any time.
It does not matter if you are a part-time, full-time, permanent, temporary or fixed-term employee. Independent contractors, however, do not qualify.
A parent is considered a birth mother, non-birth mother, father, a person with whom a child is placed for adoption or a person who is in a relationship of some permanence with a parent of a child and who intends to treat the child as their own.
- How do I apply for parental leave?
You can apply for parental leave EI benefits by applying through the Government website here.
- When do I apply for parental leave?
The Employment Standards Act, 2000 states that employees who intend to take parental leave must inform their employers at least two weeks in advance. However, if your child comes earlier than expected the parental leave will start the first day you stop working and you must inform your employer within two weeks that you are taking parental leave.
You should apply for EI benefits as soon as possible after you stop working. If you wait more than 4 weeks after your last day of work then you may lose your benefits.
- Can I work while on paid parental leave?
If you are receiving EI benefits for parental leave, your benefits will be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar you earned, up to 90% of the weekly insurance earnings used to calculate your EI benefits. Any income you earn over the 90% threshold will be deducted dollar for dollar from your benefits. Find more information on the Government of Canada website here.
If your employer is paying you while you are on leave, and you are not receiving EI benefits, then you will have to determine the work expectations during the leave with your employer.
- Does parental leave have to be continuous?
Yes, you have to take the leave continuously once you start it.
- Can both parents collect EI during parental leave?
Yes. If you intend to share the parental leave benefits (meaning you and your partner are both going to take time off and receive benefits) you must both choose the same option (standard or extended) and each submit your own application. You can receive your benefits at the same time or one after the other.
For standard parental leave, the maximum number of weeks is 40. One parent cannot take more than 35 weeks.
For extended parental leave, the maximum number of weeks if 69. One parent cannot take more than 61 weeks.
- Can I take parental leave before the baby is born?
No, only pregnancy or maternity leave can be taken before the baby is born.
- Do you accrue vacation while on parental leave?
You accrue vacation time on parental leave but not vacation pay. Vacation time is the number of weeks of vacation you are entitled to per year based on your years of service. Vacation pay accumulates as wages are earned.
- How many hours do I need for parental leave?
You must have accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the 52 weeks before the start of your claim or since the start of your last claim, whichever is shorter. Eligibility details can be found on the Government of Canada website here.
- How much is parental leave pay in Ontario?
Maternity leave benefits are a maximum of 15 weeks of benefits of 55% of wages to a maximum of $573 per week. Parental leave benefits are slightly different.
For standard parental leave, parents can receive up to 40 weeks, but one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks of standard benefits of 55% of wages to a maximum of $573 per week. Extended parental leave benefits are up to 69 weeks, but one parent cannot receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefits of 33% of wages to a maximum of $344 per week.
The Government of Canada offers a benefit estimate calculator here.
- What happens after paid parental leave finishes?
You have the option of notifying your employer when your leave ends that you will be returning to work. If you do not notify your employer, your employer must assume you are returning at the end of the maximum amount of leave time. However, it is best practice to keep in contact with your employer regarding your plans returning to work.
Your employer cannot force you to return early and they cannot require medical documentation to support your ability to return to work.
Your employer must also maintain your seniority, service and provide you any pay increases (if any occurred) while you were away.
If you elect not to return to work, you must provide your employer with notice of the cessation of your employment four weeks in advance of your final day of leave, plus any additional notice should your employment contract request for more.
- What happens if I am terminated while on parental leave?
The Employment Standards Act, 2000 and the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibit the termination of employees who take a parental leave or attempt to take a parental leave because they took the leave. If you are terminated while on leave because you took the leave, you may be entitled to reinstatement, lost wages and human rights damages.
However, just because you were terminated while on parental leave does not automatically mean your employer terminated you because you took parental leave. Your employer is allowed to terminate you for reasons unrelated to your leave such as downsizing, closing the company, restructuring, etc. If you are terminated while on parental leave, it is best to contact an employment lawyer to review your options.
- What if I have a miscarriage or a stillbirth? Am I still entitled to leave?
If you have had a miscarriage or stillbirth, or if your spouse or partner has, you are not eligible for parental leave.
A mother who has a miscarriage or stillbirth within the 17-week period before her due date is eligible for maternity/pregnancy leave. Further information regarding this can be found at the Ontario Guide to Pregnancy and Parental leave website here.