How EI maternity benefits in Canada work

There's lots to do before baby arrives—finish the nursery, pack your hospital bag and apply for EI. This is how EI maternity benefits work in Canada and why you need to apply for them before your newborn arrives.

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Congratulations, you’re having a baby! In Canada, if you’re a biological or surrogate mother who’s pregnant or has just given birth, you may be eligible for maternity leave benefits through Employment Insurance (EI). Technically, it’s 15 weeks of maternity leave followed by 35 weeks of parental leave.

If you have insurable employment (meaning, your employer deducts EI premiums from your wages or salary), or you’re self-employed and are registered for the EI program, and have worked enough hours to qualify, you can apply for benefits as long as the industry you’re in qualifies. (Your normal weekly earnings must have been reduced by more than 40 percent and you need to have accumulated at least 600 hours of insurable employment during the qualifying period—which is usually the 12 months or 52 weeks prior to applying.)

“Ask your employer to help you understand what your benefits will be,” says Melanie Peacock, an associate professor of human resources in the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University in Calgary. If you work for a large company, a human resources representative will be able to tell you whether you have enough insurable hours to qualify for Canada’s Employment Insurance maternity and parental leave benefits. Also ask whether your company offers additional benefits, such as topping up your government pay while on leave. 

Most moms-to-be want to know how long they can receive EI maternity benefits, and how much money they’ll get while off work. The amount paid out is based on earnings. The basic benefit rate is an every-two-weeks payment that’s 55 percent of your average bi-weekly income, up to a maximum yearly income cutoff of $53,100 (a maximum of $562 per week, as of January 2019). For example, this means that if your annual salary was $95,000, you will receive the same maximum payment every two weeks that an employee who made $65,000 a year receives.

In 2017, the Canadian government announced plans to offer an 18-month option instead of the traditional 12-month mat leave, and the first round of parents to take this lengthened leave will be back to work in May 2019. With an 18-month schedule, you get 33 percent distributed over 18 months, instead of 55 percent distributed over 12 months.

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Residents of Quebec aren’t eligible for maternity and parental benefits through Employment Insurance. Instead, they must apply to the
Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). However, they are eligible for other benefits delivered by EI, such as Parents of Critically Ill Children (PCIC) benefits.

The Government of Canada urges women to apply online for benefits as soon as they stop work, because waiting too long can result in payment delays. And it’s a good idea to sign up for direct deposit so the money will go straight into the bank on a regular schedule. (There is a two-week waiting period for benefits to begin.)

There’s also a caveat: maternity benefits need to start either before the baby is born (many women stop working a couple weeks before the due date), or as close to the due date or actual birth date as possible, because the benefits must end 17 weeks after the birth week. At that point, parental benefits kick in for 35 or 61 more weeks, depending on whether you’ve chosen the standard or extended option. And as of March 17, 2019, the new parental sharing benefit offers extra time off for couples who split their leave—40 weeks instead of 35 on the standard (with neither parent taking more than 35 weeks) and up to 69 weeks instead of 61 on the extended (with neither parent taking more than 61 weeks).

Women should also apply for parental leave benefits at the same time, and indicate whether they plan to share the benefits with their partner or co-parent.

Read more:
What to do if you’re fired on maternity leave
Is Quebec doing parental leave the best?

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