An unintended side effect of the various business closures that have impacted Ontario since the start of the pandemic is now being felt by new and expecting parents across the province. With the pandemic well into the second year, some of the long-term effects of the closures are now making themselves known. Across Ontario, many parents-to-be and new parents are being denied federal Employment Insurance coverage due to the fact that they don’t meet the minimum requirements for the number of hours worked in the year leading up to their proposed maternity or parental leave.
Industries Shuttered and Employees Unable to Work
Speaking with CTV News, a woman named Kaitlyn Ward, a hairstylist based in Keswick, Ontario, explained that she had been denied parental leave benefits because she had not completed the 600 hours of work required in the 52 weeks leading up to her leave. The federal government had previously announced a temporary measure to reduce the number of required hours from 600 to 120, with the application of a credit of 480 hours. However, this credit had been applied to Ms. Ward’s previous EI application in December of 2020, unbeknownst to her. At the time, she did not need the credit to qualify for coverage.
Once salons were allowed to reopen earlier in 2021, Ms. Ward returned to work for six weeks before things were shut down again due to increased infection rates. When she made a second application in the summer of 2021 for maternity and parental leave after giving birth to her first child, she was denied. The credit was unavailable to her for this new application, and she had accumulated nowhere close to the 600 hours required to become eligible for a new claim.
How Maternity and Parental Leave Eligibility for Employment Insurance is Determined
Canada’s maternity and parental leave benefits are typically granted as follows:
Maternity leave benefits are only available to the person who gave birth to a child to supplement the income lost due to absence from work following the birth. These benefits cannot be shared between parents. The benefit will be approved for up to 15 weeks, at a rate of 55% of the recipient’s regular income, to a maximum of $595 per week, before taxes.
Parental leave benefits are available for the parents of a newborn or newly adopted child. These benefits can be shared by the parents, who may choose to receive benefits simultaneously, or consecutively, depending on whether they’d like to take time off work together, or separately. In addition, benefits are offered in two possible forms: standard or extended.
Standard benefits may extend for up to 40 weeks, although no individual parent may receive more than 35 weeks of benefits. Standard benefits are paid at a rate of 55% of the recipient’s income, to a maximum of $595 per week.
Extended benefits allow parents to take more time off before returning to work, in exchange for a reduced weekly entitlement. Extended benefits may be paid up to 69 weeks, although no individual parent may receive more than 61 weeks of benefits. Extended benefits are paid at a rate of 33% of the recipient’s income, to a maximum of $357 per week.
Eligibility for Maternity and Parental Benefits
To be eligible for maternity or parental benefits, the applicant must typically have worked at least 600 insured hours over the course of the 52-week period leading up to their application. Insured hours mean that they were contributing regularly to the Employment Insurance program through their regular pay. It is possible for self-employed individuals to also qualify for these benefits if they are enrolled in the special benefits program for self-employed people for at least 12 months prior to making a claim.
Federal Government Set to Implement a Reduction in the Number of Hours Required
In recognition of the reduction of available work due to the various business closures mandated as a result of COVID, the federal government has been issuing a credit of 480 hours to applicants who may otherwise not qualify for benefits under the minimum hours rule. However, as of September 26, 2021, the government is set to temporarily reduce the number of hours required to qualify for coverage. Starting this coming Sunday, applicants across the country will only need 420 hours of insured work in order to qualify. However, this change would not be of assistance to applicants like Ms. Ward, who has only been able to work for a total of 6 weeks in the past year.
While some employers may offer increased supplemental benefits to employees who cannot qualify for federal coverage, this would be rare, particularly for employees in the service industry, one of the hardest-hit industries since the start of the pandemic.
Contact Ottawa Employment Lawyers Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, and North Bay
Our employment law lawyers can help employees who believe they have been unfairly denied parental leave benefits related to COVID-19. To discuss your matter with a member of our employment team, contact Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa & Eastern Ontario at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.