The importance of maternity leave cannot be overstated. For new mothers, it provides a critical period of time to bond with their newborns, recover from childbirth, and adjust to their new role as parents. As such, it is vital for an employer to understand their responsibilities when it comes to maternity.
In Alberta, employers are required to provide eligible employees with up to 16 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave, with the additional option of 62 weeks of unpaid parental leave. However, it is not enough to simply provide the legally required time off. To truly support your employees, you must also be prepared to accommodate their needs upon return to work.
In this article, we will explore your requirements and responsibilities when it comes to maternity leave in Alberta, as well as the benefits of providing such leave to both employees and employers.
When is an employee eligible for maternity leave in Alberta?
Maternity leave in Alberta is available to all pregnant employees (part-time, full-time, permanent, or fixed-term) as long as their workplace is covered by the Alberta Employment Standards Code.
A pregnant employee is eligible for maternity or parental leave if they’ve been employed at least 90 days with the same employer. If your pregnant employee has worked for you for less than 90 days, you can still grant them maternity leave. But you aren’t obligated to do so under the Alberta Employment Standards Code.
What is the length of maternity leave in Alberta?
Pregnant employees are entitled to 16 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave. The earliest your employee can start the leave is within the 13 weeks leading up to the expected due date. The leave can be taken no later than the date of birth.
However, if the pregnancy affects the employee’s work performance during the 12 weeks before their due date, you can require that the employee start their maternity leave earlier by notifying your employee in writing.
Birth mothers must take at least six weeks of leave after delivering their baby unless you agree to their request for an early return, and they provide you with a medical certificate stating the early return will not endanger their health.
Please note that if the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage or stillbirth within 16 weeks of the estimated due date, your employee is still entitled to the full length of the maternity leave.
For parental leave, birth and adoptive parents can take up to 62 weeks of unpaid leave.
Is maternity leave Alberta paid?
Maternity and parental leaves are unpaid leaves. This means employers are not required to pay wages to employees for the duration of these leaves. Employees can, however, apply for and receive maternity and parental leave benefits (taxable) through the federal Employment Insurance system.
Parental benefits can be shared between parents. But maternity benefits can’t be shared and can only be availed by employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
Eligible employees who are on maternity and parental leaves can receive Employment Insurance (EI) that pays 55% of their salary, up to a maximum of $638 a week.
With parental leave, there are two options. Your employees can either apply for standard parental benefits or extended parental benefits.
Standard parental benefits mean 55% of earnings at a weekly maximum of $638. Your employee can get standard parental benefits for up to 40 weeks, but one parent cannot use more than 35 weeks of standard benefits.
Extended parental benefits pay 33% of earnings at a weekly maximum of $383. They can be availed for 69 weeks, but one parent can’t receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefit. When sharing, both parents should apply separately but choose the same option. You can’t change the benefit option once you start receiving benefits.
An employee can apply for both maternity and parental benefits at once. They should keep in mind that there is a week’s waiting period before they start receiving the benefits.
Can I request for a medical certificate from an employee going on Alberta maternity leave?
Yes. You can require employees to provide a medical certificate that confirms the pregnancy and the estimated delivery date.
What is the notice requirement for maternity leave in Alberta?
Employees are required to provide their employers at least six weeks’ notice before availing maternity or paternal leave. They are not required to give a specific return date at that time, but they may do so if they wish.
If the employee is unable to provide notice prior to taking the leave due to medical reasons, they are still entitled to the leave, but they must provide written notice as soon as possible. In case of maternity leave, the employee must then provide written notice and a medical certificate to the employer within two weeks of her last work day.
If your employee is sharing parental leave with their spouse, they should inform you of their intention to do so. Two employees, who work for the same employer, may combine parental leave for a maximum of 62 weeks.
Please note that a birth mother taking maternity leave isn’t required to give you notice before starting parental leave, unless she originally arranged to avail only 16 weeks of maternity leave.
Employees on parental or maternity leave must also provide written notice at least four weeks before returning to work, or if they plan on not returning after their leave ends.
What is required when an employee returns to work from maternity leave?
Finally, as an employer, you must be prepared to accommodate employees’ needs upon their return to work. This may include providing a private space for the employee to express breastmilk, allowing for a flexible work schedule, and providing additional training or support to help the employee transition back to work.
What do I need to know regarding pregnancy discrimination?
In Canada, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related medical condition and doing so can have serious consequences.
Beyond legal obligations, discrimination against pregnant employees can create a hostile work environment and negatively impact the health and well-being of the employee. Additionally, pregnancy discrimination can result in high turnover rates, as pregnant employees may feel forced to leave their job due to mistreatment, as well as damage to your business’ reputation.
It is essential for employers to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace to ensure legal compliance, promote ethical practices, and maintain a positive work environment.
What are my obligations as an employer when it comes to maternity leave in Alberta?
Employers cannot terminate, lay off, discriminate against, or ask an employee to resign because of pregnancy, childbirth, or for taking maternity leave. Your employee is entitled to maternity leave under the Alberta Employment Standards Code.
Alberta maternity and parental leaves are covered by Employment Insurance. This means employers don’t have to pay wages to employees who avail these leaves unless agreed upon in an employment contract or collective agreement.
When employees on maternity or parental leaves re-join work, employers must give them their same (or equivalent) job back. You must also count the leave period in any calculation of length of the employment and seniority.
Do you need help creating a maternity leave policy in Alberta?
Maternity leave is a crucial benefit for new mothers in Alberta. Employers have a responsibility to provide eligible employees with unpaid maternity leave, you must also provide written notice of employees’ rights and responsibilities, continue to provide benefits during the leave, and be prepared to accommodate employees’ needs upon their return to work. Providing maternity leave can benefit both employees and employers and is an important step toward creating a supportive and inclusive workplace.
Having an effective maternity leave policy will help clarify issues such as medical documentation, additional pay, and vacation days. Our HR experts can assist you with company policies and with any other human resource management, health & safety, or employment advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.