Being pregnant

How EI parental benefits in Canada work

Whether you're having a baby or adopting a child, you quality for parental leave benefits. Figuring out how they work can be a little bit confusing so we break it down for you.

Parental leave benefits are offered to parents who are caring for a newborn, or a newly adopted child or children. When your regular weekly earnings are reduced by more than 40 percent because of pregnancy or your need to care for a newborn or newly adopted child (or children), you may be eligible for parental benefits. For parents with a new baby, the 35 weeks of parental leave follows 15 weeks of maternity leave, and must be used during the year after a child is born. For parents who have adopted, it’s a stand-alone benefit that must be used during the year after the child is placed with them.

As with maternity leave, you need to have insurable employment, and qualify with enough work hours: each parent who applies must have accumulated at least 600 hours of insurable employment within the qualifying period. (The qualifying period is either the 52 weeks prior to the start of parental benefits, or the period since the start of your last EI benefit if it started in the last year.)

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For most people, the basic rate for calculating EI benefits is 55 percent of your average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount. As of 2019, the maximum yearly insurable earnings amount was $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.

The 35 weeks of parental leave can be shared between parents as they see fit, and the new EI parental sharing benefit incentivizes doing just that. Parents who split their leaves are given extra time off—40 weeks instead of 35 on the standard (with a maximum of 35 weeks for either parent) and up to 69 weeks instead of 61 on the extended (with a maximum of 61 weeks for either parent). The hope is to bring more gender equality in raising children, and help women who have trouble returning to the workforce.

When deciding whether to take 12 or 18 months, there are many considerations. “One of the key mistakes that parents make is a lack of planning,” says Melanie Peacock, an associate professor of human resources in the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University in Calgary. “When you know that you’re welcoming a new child into the family, it’s really important to sit down and talk about—and make some calculations for—what you anticipate you’ll receive and how you expect that you’ll split the leave time.” 

The EI parental benefits rate is the same as maternity leave, which is a consideration for determining how many weeks of the benefit each parent should take, or if one parent can also take the entire parental leave—it doesn’t have to be shared. “Do a budget,” advises Peacock. “Kids are expensive, and on leave your income goes down.”

Finally, parents should ask their employer about continuous company benefits, to make sure they can stay on the company’s medical and dental plan, or continue paying into the pension plan, while on leave. “You want to make sure that additional coverage continues,” Peacock says. “And make sure to register your child with your employer as soon as possible so that he or she is covered under the company benefits plan.”

The number of weeks of maternity or parental benefits does not change for multiple births or if you adopt more than one child at the same time.

Parents of Critically Ill Children (PCIC) Benefit
Sometimes delivery doesn’t go as planned, or a baby is born prematurely or with complications and requires life-saving medical intervention or extended hospitalization. In those cases, parents may qualify for Parents of Critically Ill Children (PCIC) benefits, which is a separate benefit under Employment Insurance, and must be applied for separately from maternity and parental benefits. The benefits also apply to parents with children who have life-threatening illnesses or injuries, although not to those who have chronic conditions.

To qualify, a parent must meet eligibility requirements, including that their regular weekly earnings have been reduced by more than 40 percent because they’re needed to provide care or support your critically ill child, and they must have accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the previous 52 weeks (or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter). But for this benefit, parents must provide a medical certificate signed by a specialist that confirms the child’s life is at risk. Like maternity and parental benefits, the PCIC benefit provides parents with 55 percent of their weekly earnings, to a maximum of $51,300.

PCIC benefits last for a maximum of 35 weeks for one parent or split between two parents. Parents shouldn’t worry about losing out on maternity or parental benefits—once PCIC is exhausted or no longer required, they may be able to convert the PCIC claim to maternity or parental benefits. If the timing falls outside of the benefits period (e.g., the baby is hospitalized for many weeks or months), parental benefits can be extended by the number of weeks the child was hospitalized.

Read more:
Is Quebec doing parental leave the best?
Paternity leave: What new dads need to know