Canadian Maternity Leave

It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I’m giving a brief overview of how maternity leave works in Canada. If you’re really interested in the nitty-gritty details, you can read all about it here.

Canadian parents are eligible for maternity and parental benefits, administered through the federal government’s employment insurance system. In practice most people refer to both as ‘maternity leave’, particularly when only the birth mother is receiving them. However, there are important distinctions.

Maternity benefits are paid for 15 weeks, and only a birth mother is eligible to receive these benefits. Even surrogate mothers, or those whose babies do not survive, may apply. Parental benefits are paid for 35 weeks, and partners and adoptive parents may receive these benefits as well. If parents share benefits, the total between them may not exceed 50 weeks. In addition, there is a 2-week waiting period on the shared claim, so the total time away from work is 52 weeks.

There are some exceptions to this. In order to receive maternity or parental benefits you must qualify for employment insurance. In general, this means that you have 600 hours of insured income during the previous 52 weeks, or since your last leave. The self-employed can’t receive benefits, since their hours are not insurable (although Stephen Harper has proposed that should change).

Edited to add – That has now changed. See my article Maternity Leave Eligibility for the Self-Employed.

Maternity and parental benefits do represent a significant drop in income for most families. You receive only 55% of your insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $447 a week (and $0 for the 2-week waiting period). Some employers do offer supplemental benefits for all or part of the leave, but I don’t think this is the norm. There also may be conditions applied to supplemental benefits in some cases.
Edited to add – For claims established Dec. 27, 2009 or later, the maximum benefits have increased to $457 per week.

Canada compares pretty favourably to other countries. While our maternity and parental leave policies are not the very best, we’re competitive on the global stage. If you’re curious to compare for yourself you can find some articles here, here, and here.

Why should we care about maternity and parental benefits? And why should we, as taxpayers, foot the bill? Because generous maternity benefits increase the birth rate (see here and here and even here) and breastfeeding rates (read this and this). And because we want our children and families to be happy and healthy. Jacob is almost 12 weeks old, and leaving him now to return to work would be very difficult for me. Because I receive maternity benefits I don’t have to make the economic decision to return to work before my child and I are ready. And that’s a very good thing.

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  1. hi, i just have a wife did not take any maternity leave from EI. she had 2 months paid maternity leave from her company.after that i took parental leave and EI gave me 35 weeks.the 35 weeks will end this March and my coworker told me that the company is really slow and i’m afraid that i will be layoff when i come back to you think if i got laid off i can still apply for EI benefits? i’ve been working for the company for 1 1/2 years already.


  2. I replied to Roland directly by email. However, I wanted to reply here for the benefit of others.

    I don’t work for the government. I’m just a mom on maternity leave myself. As I understand it you would need to have enough insurable hours over the past 52 weeks to qualify, and then the EI you’ve already received would be counted against you. But really, the best thing for you to do is to contact Service Canada. You can find their website here:

    The phone number for EI questions is 1 800 206-7218.

  3. Hi Amber
    One of the issues I see with the mat leave system (at least as an ex-Vancouverite, but maybe this applies to the rest of the country as well) is that mat leave ends when your child is about 1 year old. Vancouver had very few daycare spots for that age group due to regulations about the worker/child ratio at that age. By the time the child is 18 months, this ratio goes down so there are a lot more spots for 18 month old kiddos (still not a lot, but more). Finding care for a 1 year old in Vancouver means getting on a wait list as soon as you find out you are pregnant!! Seriously. The mat leave, in my opinion, should mesh with the child care options. And of course, self-employed moms should get it too, but that’s whole nuther bag.
    Thanks for mentioning my post on mat leave and breastfeeding rates.

  4. Hi,
    If my Daughter works for my Canadian Corporation is she eligible for Mat leave from a “Family” owned business?

  5. I am also very interested in the answer to Anne’s question as I fall in the same category as her daughter and am very concerned for my financial future after the baby. I work for my Father’s company. We are Incorporated.

  6. Those who work for family members are in a bit of a gray area. I found two websites that said she may or may not be covered. Here are the sites:

    And here is a quote from one of the articles:

    “Most work for employers in Canada is insured. However, you may not be insured, and therefore not entitled to EI … if you work for a family member … In some cases, work for family members in Canada does qualify for Employment Insurance. You can be sure you qualify if your pay stub shows employment insurance deductions from your wages”

    So, provided that you have been paying EI premiums, and aren’t an owner or shareholder in the business, you will probably qualify. However, your best course of action is to speak with Service Canada since they are the ones who make the determination. They will need to make a ruling at the time of application. If you want to know in advance, you can request a ruling before you even get pregnant. Here is Service Canada’s contact info:

    Please contact us at 1 800 206-7218 from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and press “0” to speak to a representative.

  7. hi,
    I am wondering if it is your first time to receive benefits in Canada,if you need 600 or 900 hours.For som ereason I think it is 900 …?


  9. For sickness, maternity and parental leave you only need 600 hours.

    It doesn’t affect your maternity leave if you apply for sickness benefits before your maternity. However, you really should contact Service Canada to find out more. You can learn more about combining sickness and maternity leave here:

    Or you can call Service Canada at 1 800 206-7218.

  10. michelle says:

    I have a question: Is your employer obligated to pay your time off to attend prenatal appointments?

    If not, can they force you to take vacation to attend the prenatal appointments?


  11. Does it matter if your 600 hours of insurable income within the last 52 weeks comes from 2 different employers?
    For example, if you changed jobs a few months before you became pregnant- you may only end up working for your employer for about 6 months.
    I realize that your new employer would not be able to guarantee your position, but am I right in understanding that you would still receive benefits?
    …and another thing, if you work within the school system and you have your baby during summer break, would your receivable amount decrease due to the fact that you didn’t earn anything in July/Aug?

  12. Harriet Glynn says:

    Something worth noting: Adoptive parents do not receive Maternity Leave but they do receive Parental Leave (35 weeks)- a point of contention for many adopting parents. The reason for this is that Maternity Leave is expressly for the recovery of the physical duress of child birth.

    However, adopting parents are entitled to take off a full year from their job and have their job held for them for the full 52 weeks (they would not be paid for those additional weeks).

    I applied for my EI online, and mailed in my ROE and a letter from the agency and received my payment 4 days later!! Now that must be a record.

  13. I have been on Mat leave for the full year and it has ended on Oct 3rd. I was wondering if there is any way I could be entitled to EI? I don’t want to go back to work because there’s nothing open in my area and day care out here is priced so high and I don’t want someone else raising my child. If you have any information that could help me please let me know thanks!

  14. i got laid off 2 days ago and i’m 10 weeks pregnant ,my question is do i qualify for maternity now or do i apply for EI . i need info please

  15. Hi, Just wodering how much of a severance I am looking at receiving. I was with my company for 2 years and just found out a couple of weeks before i was due to return that my position was eliminated. Even though I was the only one in my small division.

  16. Hello,

    I will be going on leave starting next week. I didn’t work the whole 600 hours in the 52 weeks because I was in school. On the gov’t website it says that the work period can be extended back to 105 weeks if you are attending a course of instruction. Should I still qualify for benefits?


  17. Since you are the Mat leave guru and all….I have a question for you.

    Does it matter if the 600 hours worked is Full time hours or part time hours?


  18. I have a question…. I was laid off in March 2009 and have been receiving employment insurance. I am not pregnant. Can I still collect maternity leave employment insurance since I had 600 hours in with my last employer?

    • You need 600 hours in the past 12 months, OR since your last claim (if you’ve had a claim in the last 12 months). Since it doesn’t sound like you’ve worked since you were laid off more than a year ago, you will not qualify for maternity and parental benefits unless you get some hours in now. 🙁

  19. Sorry that should have said I am NOW pregnant…

  20. Hi can you tell me what is the earliest I can start my leave. I live in Toronto Ontario. I read somewhere that it’s 17 weeks before due date. Thanx

  21. Hi, my hubby and I are planning to get pregnant in the near future. I am currently a student, and will work for the summer and earn over 600 hours in that time. The plan is to have the baby come by the end of my second year of school, but we are just wondering if it’s 600 hours to qualify for maternity and an ADDITIONAL 600 hours to qualify for parental leave, making it 1200 hours in total? Or would I qualify for maternity AND parental benefits for the 50 weeks based on having 600 hours totaled in a year?

  22. Hi, I’m in my 12th week and since I am a temp may be losing my job in the coming weeks. From september of last year to now I already worked more than 1000 hrs till now since I’ve had full time hours. If I am unable to find another ft job and get minimum hours will that affect how much mat leave I will receive when I apply in September? Or will they base it on the amounts I’ve accumulated within the whole 365 days? I’m panicked because i heard its based on the amounts you received the 20 weeks prior mat leave.

  23. rohi mahajan says:

    hi amber….

    i just want to confirm that i worked for 900 hr from november 2010 to may 2011 n now i am not working my delivery date is mid of june 2012…can i still eligible for maternity benefits……

    • I don’t think you are eligible. You need to have worked 600 hours in the 52 weeks before your leave starts. You are eligible to start your leave 8 weeks before your due date, so approximately April 2012. You would need to have worked 600 hours between April 2011 and April 2012. I don’t know when your last day of work was, but if you were working a 40 hour week you would need to have worked 15 weeks between April 2011 and April 2012, and it doesn’t sound like that would have happened.

  24. Hello
    I have a question similiar to Jin.
    I have been working part-time while in school. I am still in school, but have accepted a full-time position from the same company, starting in January (2012).
    For my school I will be doing a full-time placement in addition to course work.
    I am thinking that I would like to go on maternity leave early so that I can finish school, however am not sure if I do that what my maternity leave will be. Is the 55% calculated based on the last 600 hours? Or is the 55% based on 2 months, or your current (in my case starting in January) rate of pay? I can find no more information on the actual calculated amount other than up to 55%. If you know anything about this, I would really appreciate any information because I can’t find any and am trying to decide if it is worth trying to work 2 full-time positions (1 un-paid for school) as well as school work in order to qualify for a higher maternity leave payment.

    • I replied to Jin in an email, but I can see I should have posted the answer here, too.

      The 55% is calculated based on your qualifying period, which uses a somewhat confusing formula. You can read more about that here:

      The basic summary is that they usually average your weekly earnings during the 26 weeks before your claim starts. If you’re working more, and getting paid more, you would get a higher maternity leave payment for sure. You can start maternity leave up to 8 weeks before your expected due date, and then your benefits would be calculated counting back from that point.

      I hope this makes sense. You can always call Service Canada and confirm your exact situation with them, if you want a more specific answer.

  25. Hi Amber,
    Question for you (I can get through to service Canada’s line to find out!)
    I returned to work after my fist mat leave already pregnant. I worked 18 weeks before delivering my second baby so qualified for another years mat leave – however I’m unclear if I then qualify for a full year mat leave or just for the 18 weeks worked?

    Thanks so much for your help!

    • You either qualify for mat leave or you don’t. As long as you have at least 600 hours since your last claim, you can qualify for the full 50 weeks of maternity and parental leave through EI. If you didn’t have 600 hours, you wouldn’t get anything. There are no partial benefits.

      However, I’d like to make an important distinction. When you’re on maternity leave there are two things to consider: EI benefits, and provincial labour law. Your province may have different rules about who does and doesn’t qualify for maternity leave, and how long they qualify for. Someone could qualify for maternity leave from work under provincial law, but not be eligible for EI. In the same way, someone could be eligible for EI, but not receive protection under provincial law for maternity leave. Some provinces have minimum periods you need to work, for example, to be eligible for maternity leave, which differ from EI regulations. If you want to make certain, you can get in touch with your HR or union rep, or contact a labour lawyer. None of this would affect your pay in any way, though.

      • Hi Amber,
        Thanks so much for the reply. Just to clarify though, I am currently receiving my mat leave pay, however I’m trying to figure out if it will end after a few weeks as I only worked 18 weeks before going on my 2nd mat leave. Would I only be paid ei for those “insurable hours” worked?

        Thanks again!

        • What I’m saying is that as long as you work at least 600 hours before your next mat leave, you’re eligible for the full 50 weeks of maternity and parental leave. Either you qualify for the whole thing, or you get nothing at all. There’s no distinction between someone who only worked for 18 weeks or someone who worked for 104 weeks – as long as you have 600 hours, you get 50 weeks. So make sure you’ve worked at least 600 hours, and you’re good for a year

  26. Hi Amber,

    I have a similar question to the thread.

    My job in Ontario was terminated in Oct 2011 whn I was 4 weeks pregnant. After that , I have looked for work, however difficult to find work as was showing up pregnant during interviews. my ROE says I have contributed more than 1000 hours from Mar 2011 – Oct 2011. My due date is May 2012.

    Hope I am eligible for EI – Maternity and Parental benefits. If yes, When should i apply for both.

    Appreciate your response.


  27. I have made a decision – I am no longer available to answer personal questions related to maternity and parental leave. I have closed comments on this post for that reason. If you can’t find the answer somewhere on this site, then your best bet is to call Service Canada. And, really, even if you DO find the answer your best bet is to call Service Canada.

    My last maternity leave ended nearly three years ago, and my information is no longer up-to-date. I’m just a mom, not a government representative.

    I apologize for the inconvenience, but when I wrote this in 2008 I didn’t anticipate that I would still be fielding questions at this point. I appreciate your understanding.

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