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What protections do I have while on maternity leave?

Welcoming a baby into your family through adoption or birth can be an extraordinary and overwhelming experience. Thus, federal and provincial laws entitle new mothers and fathers to take leave from their job.

During this leave, which could last up to 61 or 63 weeks, parents continue to have rights. Parties who violate these rights can face legal and financial consequences. But what, exactly, are the rights that parents have while they are on leave after having a baby?

Protection from retaliation

Retaliation refers to adverse actions someone takes against a new parent because of status or leave-related decisions. Common examples of retaliatory behaviours include:

  • Demoting an employee for taking leave
  • Transferring an employee to a less desirable location, position or schedule because they are pregnant or about to have a child
  • Hiring someone else in the employee’s role while they are on leave
  • Terminating an employee who has plans to take leave
  • Urging a parent not to take leave to which he or she is entitled

These actions violate a person’s rights, and employers would be wise to ensure no such behaviours occur.

Job and benefits protection

When you take leave as a parent, you should expect to have a job to return to. Even if your exact position is no longer available, your employer must offer a similar role with the same or greater pay you earned before taking leave.

Employees also have the right to continue collecting benefits while on leave. Such benefits include pension and life insurance plans, and employers must continue to cover their share of the premiums. Further, time on leave should still count toward a person’s length-of-service.

That said, there are situations in which an employer can lawfully terminate a person on leave, including:

  • Large-scale downsizing and elimination of a person’s role
  • Termination based on legitimate reasons having nothing to do with the person’s decision to take leave

Whether you are an employer or an employee, it is crucial to take seriously any alleged violations under laws, including the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

When an employer violates a new parent’s rights, they and their families can face overwhelming complications and challenges. Thus, they should understand that they also have the right to speak with a lawyer to examine the legal and financial remedies that may be available.

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