The Liberal Government’s 2017 federal budget (“Budget 2017”) proposes changes that affect maternity and parental leaves and associated Employment Insurance (“EI”) benefits.

Currently, EI combined parental and maternity benefits are available at the benefit rate of 55 per cent over a period of up to 12 months. Budget 2017 proposes that this option continue to be available, but parents will alternatively be able to choose to receive EI maternity and parental benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefits rate of 33 per cent of average weekly earnings. Budget 2017 also proposes that women giving birth will be able to claim EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date – an increase from the current standard of 8 weeks.

To implement these measures, Budget 2017 proposes to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code. While the specifics of the changes will not be known until budget legislation has been introduced, we expect to see changes to the length of job-protected maternity and parental leaves  under the Canada Labour Code. For example, the maximum total duration of a combined job-protected maternity and the parental leave, which is currently 52 weeks, will likely be extended to a period of 18 months. Under the Employment Insurance Act, we expect that the current maximum of 52 weeks of combined maternity and parental leave benefits will likely be revised to allow for a new parent to receive benefits for a longer period of up to a maximum of 18 months at the lower benefit rate (of 33%).  It is not clear yet by how much the maternity benefit period may be extended, or whether it will just be the parental leave benefit period that is extended.

These changes will affect both provincially and federally regulated employees when it comes to EI benefits, but any changes to the Canada Labour Code with respect to the length of these job protected leaves will only impact federally regulated workplaces.

While we will need to await the introduction of the budget implementation legislation to assess the precise changes to the current legislation, employers should take note that changes are on the way. Policies regarding maternity and parental leaves, as well as any top-up policies with respect to EI benefits, may need to be reviewed and revised accordingly.

Written with the assistance of Melanie Simon, articling student.