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Understanding Maternity and Parental Benefits in Canada

Understanding Maternity and Parental Benefits in Canada

By Kerry Knapp
Monster Contributing Writer

Congratulations: you’re expecting! But once you share the good news with family and friends, you may well wonder what’s next. What will you live on? What are your options? And where do you turn?

Luckily, there are two basic measures to help ease the transition into parenthood: leave and benefits. The details can be tricky, so do your research and find out which options are right for you. Here’s are some terms to get you started.


“Leave” is the period of time new parents are entitled to take off without pay with a guarantee they can return to the same job once their leave is over. Length varies from province to province, as do the eligibility requirements. In most cases, employees must have completed a specific period of continuous employment to be eligible.

Currently, maternity leave for biological mothers varies from 15 to 18 weeks. Parental leave, available to both parents, varies from 35 to 52 weeks. Although adoptive mothers are not entitled to maternity leave, adoptive parents are usually entitled to the same parental leave as biological parents.

The Canadian government site, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada presents an overview of leave entitlements in each province. You’ll also find references to provincial labour laws, which you can consult for more information.


“Benefits” refers to the money parents receive from Employment Insurance (EI), or from the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) in Quebec—specifically, maternity benefits and parental benefits.

EI Benefits: Eligibility and Amounts

To qualify for EI benefits, you must have worked at least 600 hours in the last 52 weeks or since your last claim, and your regular earnings must have decreased by more than 40%.

The basic rate for all EI benefits is 55% of your average insured earnings, up to a maximum payment of $435 per week. The maximum payment period is 15 weeks for maternity benefits, and 35 weeks for parental benefits.

Maternity benefits are paid exclusively to biological mothers. Adoptive mothers and fathers are not eligible.

Parental benefits can be paid to either one of the parents or split between them in whatever proportion they choose. In addition, both biological and adoptive parents are eligible.

To apply for benefits, submit an EI application online or in person at a Service Canada Centre as soon as you stop working. Your first payment will usually be issued within 28 days.

QPIP Benefits: Eligibility and Amounts

To be eligible, Quebec residents need only have earned $2,000 in insurable income during the reference period (usually 52 weeks) and pay QPIP premiums.

Quebec residents have a choice between the “basic plan” and the “special plan.”

Under the basic plan:

  • the maternity benefit covers 70% of the mother’s earnings for 18 weeks;
  • the parental benefit is 7 weeks at 70%, followed by 25 weeks at 55%;
  • the parental benefit is 7 weeks at 70%, followed by 25 weeks at 55%;

Under the special plan:

  • the maternity benefit is 75% for 15 weeks;
  • the parental benefit is 75% for 25 weeks;
  • the adoption benefit is 28 weeks at 75%.

Like Employment Insurance, QPIP parental and adoption benefits can be taken by either parent or shared between them, simultaneously or consecutively.

Unlike EI, the QPIP also offers a paternity benefit covering 70% of the father’s earnings over five weeks, under the basic plan, or 75% over three weeks, under the special plan.

For any of these benefits, you can apply to the QPIP online or by calling its customer service centre.

Good to Know!

  • The date you file your claim can have a big impact on the benefits you receive, so time your application carefully!
  • If you work while receiving maternity benefits, your earnings will be deducted dollar for dollar from your benefits. Your earnings may be deducted from other benefits if they exceed a specified amount.
  • Some generous employers top up maternity and parental benefits, raising the total to 80% or more of their employees’ regular pay.
  • All benefits are taxable, and regular taxes will be deducted.
  • Self-employed workers do not pay EI premiums and are not eligible for benefits. This does not apply to Quebec residents, who pay into the QPIP.

There are many details to consider, so check out the Service Canada or Quebec Parental Insurance Plan websites for more information.