On April 11, 2017, the federal government introduced Bill C-44, the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1, omnibus legislation that would enact various measures outlined in its 2017 Budget. This article deals with the Bill’s amendments to Employment Insurance benefits under the Employment Insurance Act and similar measures under the Canada Labour Code.
1. Employment Insurance measures
Division 11 of Part 4 of the Bill amends the Employment Insurance Act to:
- Extend parental EI benefits to an additional 26 weeks from the current 35 weeks,
- Permit the payment of parental benefits to birth mothers over a longer period at a lower benefit rate,
- Allow maternity benefits to be paid as early as the 12th week before the expected week of birth,
- Create a benefit for family members to care for a critically ill adult and,
- Allow for benefits to care for a critically ill child to be payable to family members not just parents.
1. Extend parental benefits and allow for the payment of parental benefits over a longer period at a lower benefit rate
EI parental benefits are offered to parents who are caring for a newborn or newly adopted child. Currently, a maximum of 35 weeks of parental benefits is available to biological, adoptive, or legally recognized parents. The parental EI benefits part is being extended an additional six months. As a result, EI parental leave is increasing an additional 26 weeks to about 61 weeks.
When a birth mother combines parental (EI) benefits with her maternity EI benefits of 15 weeks, she is allowed 50 weeks in a period of 52 weeks benefits. If this provision is enacted, the 12 months will be extended to 18 months.
These employees will be able to choose to receive employment insurance (EI) parental benefits while on parental leave:
- of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33 percent of average weekly earnings, or
- at the existing benefit rate of 55 percent over a period of up to 12 months (52 weeks).
In either choice, the total amount of benefits received will be the same.
Fathers or adoptive parents will now be entitled to the additional 26 weeks (currently 35 weeks) up to a total of 61 weeks of EI parental benefits.
The election is irrevocable once benefits are paid. This election binds the person who shares the parental benefits with the claimant for the same child or children. Moreover, parents who choose to share the EI parental benefits to care for the same child or children may not exceed 35 weeks or exceed 61 weeks (depending on the election).
The extended option will be available to new EI claimants who apply for employment insurance parental benefits once the measure is in place. Existing EI claimants already receiving the benefits will not be able to switch to the extended option.
While the total benefit amount available through EI will not change, the lower extended parental benefit rate may have an impact on employers who offer supplemental or top-up payments during parental leave. We recommend that employers start to review their policies and collective agreements to determine whether changes will be required and how they may allocate top-up payments over 18 months if required to do so. Changes to these plans will demand enough lead time to give notice to employees and negotiate the terms of any collective agreement with unions. There are some variables that employers need to consider when they are examining their top up and looking at their options.
The Bill also amends the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors have the job-protected leave provisions they need while they are receiving the extended parental EI benefits. However, most provinces and territories permit a total of 12 months (52 weeks) of combined maternity and parental leave for birth mothers, and 37 weeks of parental leave for biological fathers and adoptive parents. Details on these changes can be found below.
With this change to EI parental benefits, a provincial/territorial employer could face a situation where the employee who is a birth mother, may want to extend her combined maternity/parental leave for up to 18 months. The problem is that they are only permitted a combined statutory leave of 12 months under provincial or territorial employment/labour standards legislation. In the absence of changes to provincial or territorial employment/labour standards legislation, an employer faced with a request by an employee to grant an extended maternity/parental leave to match the period in which the employee is entitled to EI benefits for 18 months, may have to decline the request or accommodate the employee. This may pose serious challenges for some employers.
Fathers or adoptive parents who want to extend their parental leave to add the additional 26 weeks to the allowed 37 weeks under employment/labour standards legislation face the same situation.
2. Allow maternity benefits to be paid as early as the 12th week before the expected week of birth
Expectant mothers can begin to take EI maternity benefits for up to 12 weeks before their due dates, instead of the current eight weeks before the due date.
This change will not alter the provincial or territorial legislated length of pregnancy/maternity leave for all employees.
3. Create a benefit for family members to care for a critically ill adult and allow for benefits to care for a critically ill child to be payable to family members
A new EI Caregiving Benefit will be created that will give eligible caregivers up to 15 weeks of EI benefits during the period of 52 weeks, while they are temporarily away from work to support or care for critically ill or injured adult family members. This benefit would be in addition to the existing Compassionate Care Benefit, which applies only where an individual is providing care for a gravely ill family member at risk of dying within 26 weeks.
The new benefit will cover a broader range of situations where individuals are providing care to an adult family member who requires significant support to recover from a critical illness or injury. The caregiver EI benefit is meant for situations where, for example, a family member is incapacitated by a car accident but expected to make a partial or full recovery.
An employee will be entitled to the EI caregiver benefit if a medical doctor or nurse practitioner has issued a certificate stating the family member’s medical condition.
The EI benefit begins on the first day of the week in which either of the followings happens:
- the day on which the first certificate is issued in respect of the adult that meets the requirements and is filed with the Commission, or
- in the case of a claim that is made before the day on which the certificate is issued, the day from which the medical doctor or nurse practitioner certifies that the adult is critically ill.
The EI benefits end on the last day of the week in which any of the followings occurs:
- all benefits payable under this section in respect of the adult are exhausted,
- the adult dies, or
- the expiry of the 52 weeks following the first day of the week the employee was entitled to the benefits.
Most provinces and territories do not have “caregiving” leave in their employment/labour standards. Though most jurisdictions have some form of sick leave, family medical leave, or personal emergency leave, and human rights laws may require employers to accommodate employees who have family caregiving responsibilities or else they could face the risk of a “family status” discrimination claim.
Parents of critically ill children will continue to have access to up to 35 weeks of benefits to care for a critically ill child, however now, with additional flexibility to share these benefits with more family members because of the new caregiver benefits. The Bill clarifies that a family member other than parents may be entitled and share the current 35 week benefit period related to caring for a critically ill or injured child. This mean if you need an aunt or mother to care for your critically ill child in your stead, now they will be entitled to the 35 weeks of EI critically ill children benefit if they have to take time off from work to do it.
A medical doctor or nurse practitioner must certify that the child is critically ill.
4. Overall impact of the above changes
The Bill amends the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors have the job-protected leave provisions they need while they are receiving the above EI benefits.
For provincially and territorially regulated employers, it will be up to individual provinces or territories to amend their respective employment/labour standards laws to provide for enhanced job-protected leaves of absence that match the extension of benefits that is proposed under Bill C-44.
There is a precedent for the provinces/territories to follow the federal government’s lead when EI changes are made, but it remains to be seen what each province or territory will do in these circumstances and when.
The above changes if enacted would likely come into force January 1, 2018.
Other employment insurance changes
The medical practitioner that can issue a medical certificate referred to under maternity, parental, compassionate care, critically ill children, caregiver EI benefits has been changed to a medical doctor or nurse practitioner.
With new and increased benefits, the government also said employment insurance premiums would increase slightly next year, to $1.69 per $100 of insurable earnings in 2018, up from $1.63 in 2017. This increase commences on January 1, 2018. This is the maximum allowable annual increase permitted under the EI Act.
2. Canada Labour Code measures
1. Increase the maximum length of parental leave to 63 weeks
Every employee who has completed six consecutive months of continuous employment with an employer is entitled to parental leave of absence from employment of up to 63 weeks to care for a new-born child of the employee or a child who is in the care of the employee for the purpose of adoption under the laws governing adoption in the province or territory in which the employee resides.
The leave of absence granted may only be taken during a 78-week period.
The aggregate amount of leave that may be taken by two employees in respect of the same birth or adoption must not exceed 63 weeks during a 78-week period.
2. Extend the period prior to the estimated date of birth when the maternity leave may begin to 13 weeks
Every pregnant employee is entitled to a maternity leave of absence from employment of up to 17 weeks, which leave may begin not earlier than 13 weeks prior to the estimated date of her confinement (due date) and end not later than 17 weeks following the actual date of her confinement, if the employee:
- has completed six consecutive months of continuous employment with an employer; and
- provides her employer with a certificate of a qualified medical practitioner certifying that she is pregnant.
If the confinement has not occurred during the 17 weeks of her leave of absence, the leave of absence is extended until the date of her confinement.
3. Create a leave for a family member to care for a critically ill adult and allow for the leave related to the critical illness of a child to be taken by a family member
Every employee who has completed six consecutive months of continuous employment with an employer and who is a family member of a critically ill adult is entitled to a caregiver leave of absence from employment of up to 17 weeks in order to care for or support that adult if a medical doctor or nurse practitioner has issued a certificate that
- states that the adult is critically ill and requires the care or support of one or more of their family members; and
- sets out the period during which the adult requires that care or support.
The leave begins on the day the certificate is issued or, if the leave begins before the certificate is issued, the day from which the medical doctor or nurse practitioner certifies that the adult is critically ill.
Unless there is a valid reason for not doing so, the employee must give at least four weeks’ notice in writing to the employer before the day on which the leave is to begin. If the four weeks’ notice cannot be given for a valid reason, the employee must notify the employer in writing as soon as possible that the employee intends to take a leave of absence.
The employee must notify the employer of any changes (change to start of the leave, end of the leave shorter than planned etc.). The employer must be provided with notice in writing of at least four weeks of any change in the length of leave intended to be taken, unless there is a valid reason why that notice cannot be given, in which case the employee must provide the employer with notice in writing as soon as possible.
However, if the employee wishes to shorten the length of the leave but does not provide the employer with four weeks’ notice, the employer may postpone the employee’s return to work for a period of up to four weeks after the day on which the employee informs the employer of the new end date of the leave. If the employer informs the employee that their return to work is postponed, the employee is not entitled to return to work until the day that is indicated by the employer.
4. Other clarification to current leaves
- The Bill clarifies that a family member other than parents may be entitled to the critically ill children leave of absence to care for a critically ill or injured child.
- For the purposes of the above lease, care, family member, medical doctor, nurse practitioner and support have the same meanings as in the regulations made under the Employment Insurance Act and week means the period between midnight on Saturday and midnight on the immediately following Saturday.
- Medical practitioner is clarified to mean a medical doctor or nurse practitioner when a medical certificate is required for maternity, parental, compassionate care, critically ill child or caregiver leave.
The above changes if enacted, are set to come into force by orders in council but may not be earlier than July 10, 2017.
5. Changes to Division 17 of Part 4 that amends the Canada Labour Code
As stated in the Bill, Division 17 of Part 4 amends the Canada Labour Code to, among other things,
- transfer to the Canada Industrial Relations Board the powers, duties and functions of appeals officers under the Canada Labour Code;
- provide a complaint mechanism under Part III of that Act for employer reprisals. The employee has 90 days to make such a complaint to the Board after the day on which the employee knew or, in the Board’s opinion, ought to have known of the action or circumstances giving rise to the complaint;
- permit the Minister of Labour to order an employer to determine, following an internal audit, whether it complies with a provision of Part III of that Act and to provide the Minister with a corresponding report;
- permit inspectors to order an employer to cease the contravention of a provision of Part III of that Act;
- extend the period with respect to which a payment order to recover unpaid wages or other amounts may be issued;
- impose administrative fees on employers to whom payment orders are issued; and
- establish an administrative monetary penalty scheme to supplement existing enforcement measures under Parts II and III of that Act.
This Division also amends the Wage Earner Protection Program Act to transfer to the Canada Industrial Relations Board the powers, duties and functions of adjudicators under that Act and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.