The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic will discuss your rights to maternity and parental leave while you are employed. The Employment Standards Code (the “Code”) establishes the requirements for maternity leave. Generally, employees can take maternity or parental leaves without the risk of losing their job. If an employee takes maternity or parental leave, their employer must return them to their job, or an equivalent job, at the end of the leave.
Informing an Employer about Maternity Leave
To be entitled to unpaid maternity leave, an employee must have been employed with the same employer for at least 90 consecutive days. The employee must give their employer at least 6 weeks written notice of when they intend to begin their leave. If the employee does not give their employer notice, they are still entitled to maternity leave if they give their employer written notice and a medical certificate within 2 weeks of their last day of work, (the shorter notice is usually due to medical condition).
Starting Maternity Leave
Birth mothers can choose to start their maternity leave at any time within the 12 weeks leading up to the baby’s estimated due date, but no later than the actual date of birth.
If pregnancy interferes with the performance of an employee’s duties in the 12 weeks immediately before the estimated date of delivery, the employer may give the employee written notice to start their maternity leave early. Where possible, however, an employer should try to modify the workplace so that the employee can work without harming herself or the baby.
Length of Maternity Leave
Birth mothers must take at least 6 weeks off work after the birth for health reasons. A birth mother may return to work earlier if their employer agrees to an early return date and the employee provides a medical certificate to the employer confirming that the early return to work will not endanger her health.
Birth mothers may take up to 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This is one week shorter than the Employment Insurance benefit. Meaning, you may take 16 weeks off but will only be paid Employment Insurance for 15 weeks.
Returning to Work after Maternity Leave
Employees must give their employers at least 4 weeks written notice of the date that they plan to return to work after their leave.
An employer may not terminate or lay off an employee who has taken either maternity or parental leave. One exception is when the employer suspends or discontinues the entire business or an entire part of the business. Even in these cases, however, the employee must be reinstated if the business resumes operations within one year from the end of the leave.
Health Benefits and Maternity Leave
In Alberta, employers are legally required to continue paying the health-related part of maternity leave benefit premiums if they pay for employee benefit premiums when their employees are sick. An employer can ask a pregnant employee to provide information on her medical condition, as in any other health related absence. A woman may begin maternity leave without health-related problems but encounter them later during the leave. In such cases, the health-related part of the benefit plan from work can be used as it would not apply from the start of a maternity leave.
If you have any health-related benefits with your employment, you may be entitled to Employment Insurance benefits. You should contact your nearest Employment Insurance office for more information.
Non-Discrimination of Pregnancy
In Alberta it is illegal to discriminate against women because of pregnancy, according to the Alberta Human Rights Act. Pregnancy is protected under the ground of gender. Women are protected against;
- Being asked on a job application or in job interviews if they are pregnant or plan to have children;
- Being fired, laid off, or demoted because they are pregnant;
- Not being allowed to use their benefit plans for health-related parts of their maternity leave;
- Having to pre-pay their benefit premiums, or to have each employer`s share of premiums for the health-related part of their maternity leave;
- Not being allowed to rent an apartment or house because they are pregnant, except in the case of buildings which are designated for seniors or adults only; and
- Being refused use of, or access to, any type of public service such as hotels, restaurants, retail stores, schools, hospitals, and so on.
Parental leave is different from maternity leave. Unpaid Parental leave can be taken by both birth and adoptive parents. Parents are entitled to take up to 37 consecutive weeks of parental leave, which may be used by one parent or split between both parents. Parental leave may start at any time after the birth or adoption of a child but must be taken within 53 weeks of the birth or date the adopted child is placed with the parents.
As with maternity leave, the Employment Insurance parental leave benefit is one week less (61 weeks under the standard and not extended EI scheme).
If a mother taking maternity leave takes the full 37 consecutive weeks of parental leave, then the two leaves must be taken simultaneously. Once maternity leave ends, parental leave would begin. A father who has been employed by an employer for at least 90 days is entitled to take all or part of the parental leave. The father may take 37 consecutive weeks within 53 weeks of the child’s birth or adoption. If the mother and father work for the same employer, then the employer is not required to grant parental leave to both employees at the same time.
If both parents intend to share parental leave, then they must notify their employers of their intention to do so. An employee must give their employer at least 6 weeks written notice of the date that they will start the parental leave, unless there is a medical condition that makes it impossible to comply with the notice provision, or the child’s placement in adoption was not foreseeable. In those cases, written notice should be given as soon as possible.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.