The “Dark Side” of Maternity Leave

Jasmine Budak wrote an interesting article about the “dark side” of maternity leave in this month’s edition of Canadian Business magazine (the original article can be found here). In it, she addresses the operational difficulties caused to employers by statutory maternity leave protections. Ms. Budak explains the predicament as follows:

Today, the year-long mat leave is standard practice, while parental perks such as salary top-ups, extra health benefits and flextime options have become commonplace expectations, especially among the generation Y. Yet even as employers accommodate parents, particularly in fields that fiercely compete for talent, their concerns haven’t changed much from a decade ago. Many businesses struggle with the financial and efficiency burdens of filling temporary positions, especially if they’re senior or highly skilled roles. They can’t be sure if the new parents will return after their leaves or choose to cut back their workload—or quit altogether. Meanwhile, resentment may brew among remaining staff forced to shoulder extra work demands. Perhaps worst of all, employers can’t even complain. Coming out against parental benefits would be like mourning sweatshops and sexual harassment (my emphasis).

The labour standards legislation of all provinces contains similar maternity leave protections. We employment and labour lawyers often get calls from clients on how to manage maternity leaves and maternity leave replacement issues. Employers are often challenged with trying to balance their operation requirements, their desire to do the “right thing” and their legal obligations. As Ms. Budak points out in her article, it’s not an easy balance to achieve.

What do you think? Does the laws, as they are now drafted, pose a problem? If so, is there a solution?


  1. We as a society have a collective responsibility to support parenting.
    So it would be nice if the state could do more to share the burden which parental leave places on employers. E.g. waive employer CPP/EI contributions during the year following an employee’s return from parental leave.

  2. It also has negative effects. My girlfriend was recently laid off and is having trouble getting even temporary work because she is pregnant and companies are worried about maternity leave and such.

  3. I can’t believe this “article” was actually published. First of all, most women do not have significant – or any – “top ups” or “year long maternity leaves”. Perhaps a small proportion of women have that option, and of course legislation supports this choice, but many female lawyers I know work up to the day they deliver (and in the hospital), and are told very explicitly that they can go “a track” or “b track”, depending upon whether they want to take more than 6 weeks off. I don’t know a single female lawyer who does zero work during her maternity leave, either upon request by her employer (“we can’t really ask you to do this, but….”), or by her own volition. It is unrealistic for many women to stay current in their positions without at minimum reading. Even some of the most conservative American commentators decry attacks against maternity leave and associated benefits.

  4. As the article reveals, one Alberta employer (who clearly does not struggle too hard with the desire to do the “right thing”) admits “We have learned to avoid hiring people we feel will be having families.”
    The dark side, it would seem to me, is not “management’s predicament” of having to shuffle personnel at times, but rather the possibility that discrminatory hiring practices have gone underground causing even more damage in cases where women, married men, etc. are simply not hired in the first place.
    The list of financial and efficiency burdens on companies are numerous and common place, and include the 5-day work week, health and safety codes, and executive golden parachute packages. But we don’t hear about the dark side of having CEOs (they’re expensive!), or the dark side of not letting restaurants use the same fryer grease month after month (you mean I have to buy more than one barrel of this stuff?). That’s because the term “dark side” implies some ordinarily unnoticed or unobserved facet of a thing, and the fact that some conditions of doing business can only be satisfied at a cost to the business owner is simply obvious. The true dark side here is not that a rule creates an inconvenience for those who follow it. It’s the fact that the rule creates cheaters.

  5. Ms. Budak’s article is something that needs to be said, and more often.

    Furthermore, why does nobody pay any attention to the “temps” that are hired to cover maternity leave? They may have families to support, too. Why should they be relegated to temporary jobs instead of being able to learn a job and stay? After replacing someone on maternity leave for a year, the “temp” may be more qualified than the returning employee to carry on with the job. Why should the employer have to lay off the “temp” and give the job back to the new parent?

  6. … for that matter, why shouldn’t every employee be a “temp”, with no rights, benefits, pensions, minimum wage, redress under employment standards, or other security for their families. A pool of fungible labour resources! No strings attached! That would eliminate the dark side…