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Written by: Rob Caswell, CPHR

After years of a steady state on parental leave and benefits, a federal campaign promise lauded by families is a source of concern for Alberta employers.  The Trudeau government’s policy platform on working families included provisions to extend, and adjust, how parental leave benefits are accessed in Canada.

While implementation details and dates have not been released, the intention of government was to extend parental leave up to 18 months, including the portion for maternity leave, with Employment Insurance benefits being reduced for the extended period.

In the HR Trends Report, while 25% of employers would see no impact on their organizations, 44% stated they would see a somewhat negative impact, and 12% would see a very negative impact from these changes.  This was fairly uniform across small, medium, and large organizations, as well as the cross-section of oil & gas, healthcare, and professional services.  The public administration group had a slightly rosier outlook, with only 39% of respondents reporting a somewhat negative impact.

These are some very telling statistics, and although a straight extension in benefits may not be the greatest cause for concern amongst employers, the options it may bring with it are.  In addition to an extension from 12 to 18 months, the government proposal is to allow those eligible for leave to take it in chunks.  For example, you could take an initial six-month period of leave, return to the workforce for six months, and then take another six months of leave.

This scenario, though yet to be examined for the practicality, will bring significant challenges to employers in replacing staff on parental leaves.  There could be numerous benefits to recruiting for 18-month temporary positions for parental leaves.  Employers of all stripes, however, will struggle as they grapple with split-leave requests.  The impact could reach further into staff as the potential to not replace a person on a split-leave arises, with employers instead reassigning greater amounts of the residual work to existing staff for longer periods, as opposed to retaining temporary staff or engaging in multiple recruitment processes.

In the current economy, this can be a lot to take in.  People are still going to have families, and you need your critical talent performing more than ever.  How can employers prepare for these upcoming changes?

  1. Stay informed
    The leave changes were a campaign promise, and will take time to implement.  Although the federal government will be able to amend EI regulations and propose legislation for federally-regulated employees, it will take time to address changes at the provincial and territorial levels.  Use this as an opportunity to advocate for your industry.
  2. Talk to your people
    Many employers in Canada rely on the legislated floors to drive their maternity and paternity leave policies.  Consider what your staff are saying makes for an effective, and mutually-beneficial, arrangement for parental leave.  You may find yourself with a program that meets or exceeds the upcoming changes, and works in favour for your organization as a whole.  If you are going down this path, don’t forget to expand the view to other legislated, job-protected leaves.
  3. Be creative
    With a slowdown in work and reduced learning & development budgets, is it tangible to assign the work internally?  Will the temporary change in headcount allow you to give other staff a much needed opportunity, or provide for an alignment of work without a layoff?  How can you keep your work connected to those on leave?  Don’t wait for new legislation to explore these options.  Make sure you consider any implications to pay and benefits.

A strong family leave program and the associated benefits are a source of pride for Canadian employers.  As these potential changes move forward, seize the opportunity to find the best balance for your organization.