Opinion

Employment Insurance punishes parents of sick kids

Current EI rules force parents to choose between taking care of their sick kids and making a living.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Samantha Rudolph had only been back to work a few months when her son, Lawrence, was diagnosed with leukemia. Her baby needed full-time care from her, but the Barrie, Ont., mom was stuck in a loophole. Parents of critically ill children are allowed access to Employment Insurance (EI) through a special program, as long as they’ve worked 600 hours since their previous EI claim. That’s where Samantha got caught. She’d only worked 425 hours since returning from parental leave, so her claim was denied, even though she’d paid into EI for 10 years before she went on maternity leave; even though Lawrence’s doctor wrote a letter stating their baby would need full-time care from his parents for at least 35 weeks.

Parents should not have to make this kind of agonizing choice between caring for their sick child and supporting their family. Samantha is far from the only one to experience this. She’s met other families while at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital—where Lawrence is being treated, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Barrie—who share her unjust circumstances. So she’s created an online petition asking Employment Minister Jason Kenney to fix this loophole, so parents can take care of their sick children, rather than worry about how they’re going to pay the bills. They have more than their share of worries and uncertainty in their lives as it is.

I love that Canadian parents get a full year with their babies, but we need to change how the program is administered. It’s discriminatory to parents to run it through EI. Mothers and fathers have not lost their jobs when they choose to stay home with their babies. Examples like this highlight how running it through EI makes no sense.

Parents of critically ill children are not the only ones penalized by the current system. My sister Jordan’s husband was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer when their daughter was 10 months old. Jordan was on maternity leave and couldn’t return to work after her leave ended because she needed to care for her husband and my niece, who couldn’t go to daycare, as she would be exposed to too many germs, which would put her father’s life at risk. Jordan was denied a compassionate care claim through EI, because she hadn’t worked since her last EI claim, despite more than a decade of previous EI contributions. Parents who are laid off shortly after parental leave are also left at risk because they’ve just claimed EI for their leave (been there, done that).

Our social safety network is supposed to catch us before we fall, not tie us up. It’s time to make a change.

Alex Mlynek is a writer and editor. She lives in Toronto with her husband, two sons and dog. She loves food (and her family, too!).