When the federal government presents its 2016 Budget on March 22, employers will be listening to hear more about the proposed changes to parental leave.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government said it would introduce more flexible parental benefits, which would allow working parents to receive benefits in smaller blocks of time over a period of 18 months, and would make it possible for parents to take a longer leave – from 12 months up to 18 months when combined with maternity benefits – at a lower benefit level.

Read: Is longer parental leave a good idea?

In his mandate letter to Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Trudeau said the minister would be expected to work with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to “fulfill our commitment to provide more generous and flexible leave for caregivers and more flexible parental leave.”

The proposed changes are expected to go out to a stakeholder consultation in the spring, with a potential roll-out date in 2017. But at this point, “there’s a lot more unknown than there is known,” said Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Read: Think tank floats alternative federal budget

She warned, however, that there are two parts to the proposals: one is the extension of the duration of the leave, which is under the Employment Standards Act, and the other is the benefits received through Employment Insurance from the federal government.

“Most people talk about them as if they’re one and the same, but they’re not,” said Spinks. “The benefits may come before the leave … some provinces have their leave written in such a way that it’s in alignment with the benefit, and others will actually have to make a legislative change to their own employment standards.

“The expectation is that parental leave will become more flexible,” continues Spinks.

Read: Microsoft expands parental leave, improves 401(k) plan

Spinks also said not to expect that the government is just going to be making the changes for mothers. “Whether some of that will be dedicated exclusively to Dads, the way it is in Quebec, we don’t know yet, or whether there will be some incentives to share, or whether there will be other adults that will be able to share in the benefits, say a grandparent if you’re a single parent,” she added.

“We don’t know what that means yet, but that’s part of what the consultation period would determine.”

Read: Do employees have too much freedom?

In its latest budget, on March 16, Britain announced it would be launching a consultation in May to determine the feasibility of extended its shared parental leave program to working grandparents. It also announced more details about its tax-free childcare scheme, which it will begin phasing in this year.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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