Parental leave changes prompt questions of affordability, cost to businesses

November 10, 2017

New parental leave options that will allow some Canadians to spread their federal benefits over a longer period of time are leading to questions about how many people will benefit and whether small businesses will be able to adapt.

Under changes that will come into effect on Dec. 3, parents of a newborn or a newly adopted child will have the choice to spread their employment insurance benefits over the normal 12-month period or an extended 18 months.

"The flexibility will mean that each family will decide on what is best for them," Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos said in announcing the measures. "That is exactly the key make each family be better able to make those decision that better work for them."

However, the change will be limited to employees who work in federally regulated sectors of the economy, such as banking, telecom, transportation and the public service.

Critics stress limited access

Employment lawyer Jill Lewis told CBC News that the change will affect only about eight per cent of the Canadian population.

"So the vast majority of employees are going to have to wait a little longer to enjoy this type of advantage," Lewis said.

The federal government estimates up to 20,000 parents may use the new extended parental leave guidelines.

Under the new provisions, people who opt for the extended parental leave won't see any more money. They can choose 12 months of EI benefits at 55 per cent of their average weekly earnings or 18 months at 33 per cent, meaning there is no extra money in the system for those who choose the longer leave.

"There are very few families that can live off 33 per cent of their income, and that percentage is $362 a week," said Lewis. "There's very few families who can live off of that type of income."

Read more: Parental leave changes prompt questions of affordability, cost to businesses