Maternity & Parental Leave For Your Small Business

As a small-to-medium sized business, you are constantly focused on your organization’s continued success.

One of your greatest assets – your people – is a fundamental part of those efforts.

It’s a two-sided street: your employees help drive your organization’s productivity, while you give them opportunities and help guide their personal and professional growth.

For many people, an important part of their journey is starting a family and raising children. That’s why pregnancy and parenting are among the most common reasons for employee Leave of Absence (LOA).

It is essential that, as an employer, you understand how pregnancy and parental leave works in Ontario. Specifically, you should understand:

  • The rights workers are entitled to; and
  • The responsibilities employers must meet.

Both factors – the rights and responsibilities – will help ensure the well-being of your employees and the continued success of your organization.

All Canadian provinces and territories provide employee rights that allow people to take time off work to have a baby and spend time raising their children.

In Ontario, employees are permitted take unpaid, job-protected pregnancy and parental leaves.

Like other Canadian jurisdictions, Ontario’s employee leaves for pregnancy and parental leaves come in two parts:

  1. Pregnancy Leave for the birth mother, and
  2. Parental Leave for either parent to spend time with their kids.

As an employer, you should familiarize yourself with the rights and responsibilities, as well as the relevant laws and practices that govern these LOAs.


Employer’s Responsibilities

Ontario’s practices for pregnancy and parental leaves are set by:

  • Provincial legislation such as the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA)
  • Federal employment policies such as the Employment Insurance (EI) program
  • Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC)


Employment Standards Act, 2000

The Employment Standards Act, 2000, known as the ESA, is the law that sets minimum employment standards in Ontario.

Employees eligible for these LOAs include:

  • A person who is pregnant or has given birth
  • A person adopting a child
  • Someone in a relationship with a parent of a child, where the person plans to treat the child as their own

These leave entitlements are available to full-time, part-time, permanent or term contract employees who are:

  • Employed by an employer that is covered by the ESA; and
  • Was employed for at least 13 weeks before commencing the parental leave.


Unpaid, Job-Protected Leave

What does the ESA mean by “unpaid, job-protected leave”?

As an employer, you are not required to pay the employee while they are on leave.

Some large organizations may have their own practices for top-up payments, flexible working hours or other arrangements, but those programs are specific to their HR strategies, rather than any legal requirement.

You are required to keep the person’s job protected. You may hire a replacement worker to cover the job while the employee is on leave, but the employee is entitled to return to that position when their leave is finished.

Of course, things change, so it is not always possible to have the employee return to their exact position. If your organization has a restructuring that changes their job, then the employee is entitled to return to work in a comparable position.

If your organization undergoes significant downsizing or even business closing, then it may not be possible to reinstate that employee following their leave. However, you must be able to demonstrate that no comparable job remains for the employee.


Accruing Vacation Time

Ontario is different from other provinces and territories, in that employees have the right to continue accruing vacation time while they are on leave.

Your employee may be away on leave, but he or she is still accruing vacation time as they normally would.

Employees who take leave to have a baby or begin caring for children is a normal part of our working lives. As a growing organization, aim to achieve a balance. You want your employees to develop their personal and professional lives. At the same time, you need the flexibility to keep your resources focused and continue striving for greater productivity.

Remember: your main responsibility is to keep the employee’s job protected while they are on leave. If your organization changes while they are away, then you are required to give them a comparable position when they return.

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