What’s the Difference Between Maternity Leave and Parental Leave?

In Alberta, employees are eligible for both maternity leave and parental leave. Although these terms tend to be used interchangeably, there are differences between the two types of leaves.

Maternity leave is reserved exclusively for birth mothers. It is 16 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave designed to help mothers deal with the physical and medical stress of giving birth. Women can access maternity leave at any point within the thirteen weeks before their due date but no later then the date of birth. Birth mothers must may take six weeks of leave following birth for health reasons unless the employer agrees to an early return to duties and there is medical clearance from a physician.

In contrast, parental leave is a leave of absence for either birth parents and adoptive parents to take up to 62 weeks of unpaid leave. In contrast to maternity leave, parental leave can start any time after the birth or adoption of a child. However, parental leave must be completed within 78 weeks of the birth or the day the baby was placed into the adoptive home. The purpose of parental care is focused on providing time for parents to bond with and care for their new child.

It is worth quickly noting that there is also leave for lost pregnancies. The mother can take maternity leave if the pregnancy is lost within sixteen weeks of the due date. However, parental leave is not permitted.

Who is Eligible for Parental Leave?

There are specific eligibility requirements you must meet before you are eligible for maternity leave or parental leave. The first is that you must meet the employment requirement and the second pertains to your relationship to the child.

As an employee, you are eligible for parental leave if you have been working for the same employer for at least three months (90 days). However, this isn’t necessarily always the case. An employer may choose to grant you parental leave, despite the fact that you have been with the company for less than ninety days. This a choice by that employer though, nothing requires them to do so legally.

If you are the birth mother, the other parent, or an adoptive parent, then you can access parental leave. One or both parents may share the leave between them. However, these are the only relationships that are recognized. You can’t take parental leave to help a friend with their newborn. You must be a parental figure for the new child, either biologically or legally.

While both parents can take parental leave, this may prove an issue in cases where both parents work for the same employer. In this case the parents may combine parental leave for a maximum of 62 weeks but, an employer is not required to grant the leave for both parents at the same time.

How Much Notice Are You Required to Give?

The rules for giving notice are pretty similar for both maternity leave and parental leave. The basic rule of thumb is to provide your employers at least six weeks’ notice prior to starting either maternity or parental leave.

While it can be nice to let your employer know when you expect to be back, you are not required until at least 4 weeks prior to your anticipated return date or to provide notice that you will not return.

You don’t have to return to work; that is a personal decision you will have to make. But if you want to return to work, then you must give your employer four weeks’ notice. If you fail to give notice then you could find yourself without a job to return to.

Can I Be Fired for Taking Parental Leave?

Employers can’t lay off or terminate an employee, or require them to resign, because of pregnancy or childbirth. There is an exception to this rule in the circumstance where the business suspends operations or ceases operations permanently. Other than this specific situation, you are legally protected from being fired for taking parental leave.

However, as noted above, you can lose your job for failing to communicate properly with your employer to let them know that you are returning to work. Though if the failure to get into contact was due to unpreventable circumstances, you may be able to salvage the situation. It is also worth noting that some employers are easier to work with than others and may even offer you an extension of your leave.

What if My Employment Was Terminated for Taking Parental Leave?

If you believe that you were fired because of your choice to take parental leave, then you should speak to an experienced lawyer to learn more about what options are available. It isn’t enough to suspect the reasoning behind your firing; you also need to prove it if you want to win a case. This requires investigating the situation, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and a lot of other work that you shouldn’t undergo on your own.

Reach out to an experienced employment lawyer today to learn more about what can be done to rectify your situation.