Maternity Leave vs. Paternity Leave in Ontario: Are They Equal?

By: Sean O’Donnell

These blog posts are meant to provide educational content and are not to be taken as legal advice.

If you are going to have a baby or adopt a child in Ontario, the law says that you may take time off without jeopardizing your job. There are two types of leave available for this purpose – maternity leave and parental leave (sometimes called paternity leave). Sometimes the terms maternity leave and parental leave are used interchangeably, but legally they are two different things.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is for new mothers who are pregnant or who have just given birth. A birth mother is eligible for up to 15 weeks of maternity leave. Once her maternity leave ends, she may also take up to 61 weeks of parental leave, giving her a total of 76 weeks of leave. 

What is parental leave? 

Parental leave can be for either parent whether they are birth parents or adopting parents. To qualify for parental leave, you must have worked for your current employer for at least 13 weeks. We previously mentioned how much parental leave a birth mother can get. Other parents are eligible for up to 63 weeks of parental leave.  

How much will I get paid during maternity or parental leave?

Ontario law does not require your employer to pay you during maternity or parental leave – although some employers do this as a benefit. If you have worked enough hours however, you might be able to get benefits through EI. 

To be eligible for benefits, you must be able to demonstrate that you will lose at least 40% of your weekly income and that would be worked at least 600 hours over the last year or since the time of your last claim. 

Generally, standard benefits will be 55% of your insured income up to a maximum of $562/week and extended benefits are 33% of your insured income up to a maximum of $337. Parents collecting benefits from EI receive the same total amount from EI whether they choose standard or extended benefits, but those who choose extended benefits receive their payments over a longer amount of time. 

Standard parental leave benefits last for 40 weeks and extended benefits last for 69 weeks. These weeks may be divided between both parents in any way they choose with the stipulation that one parent may not take more than 35 weeks with the standard benefit or more than 61 weeks with the extended benefit. 

When may I begin my parental leave?

For most birth mothers, their parental leave begins as soon as their maternity leave ends. In some circumstances, however, there may be an exception. For example, if the baby has to stay in the care of the hospital for a period of time after being born, the new mother is legally entitled to go back to work after her maternity leave, and begin her parental leave after the baby comes home. Alternatively, she may decide to begin her parental leave right away if she wishes. She must, however, begin her parental leave within 78 weeks of the baby coming into her care.

For all other parents, they must begin their parental leave within 78 weeks of the child’s birth or of the date that they take custody of the child. 

If you need assistance in understanding your rights, or if you believe that your employer may have violated your rights, contact SJO Legal today for a consultation.