In its 2018 budget on Tuesday, the federal government confirmed it would introduce a new five-week incentive for second parents to take parental leave.
The use-it-or-lose-it employment insurance parental sharing benefit, which will take effect in June 2019, will be available to eligible two-parent families, including adoptive and same-sex couples, to take at any point following the arrival of their child.
“With the EI parental sharing benefit, two-parent families who agree to share parental leave could receive an additional five weeks of leave — making it easier for women to return to work sooner, if they so choose,” said Minister of Finance Bill Morneau during the budget announcement.
The government is proposing to provide $1.2 billion over five years, starting in 2018/19, and $344.7 million per year thereafter, to introduce the new benefit. The benefit will increase the duration of employment insurance parental leave by up to five weeks in cases where the second parent agrees to take a minimum of five weeks of the maximum combined 40 weeks available using the standard parental option of 55 per cent of earnings for 12 months. Alternatively, where families have opted for the extended parental leave at 33 per cent of earnings for 18 months, the second parent would be able to take up to eight weeks of additional parental leave.
The budget noted the new benefit would build on best practices in Quebec and other jurisdictions, which have found that incentives play a key role in who takes time off to provide caregiving. “In 2016, for example, 80 per cent of new fathers in Quebec claimed or intended to claim parental benefits, in part because of leave that was specifically reserved for them. In the rest of Canada, which does not provide second parent leave, this same figure is only 12 per cent.”
The budget also noted the more equitable parental leave would help lead to more equitable hiring practices by reducing conscious and unconscious discrimination by employers. Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family, agrees the benefit will mean work and family are about parents and caregivers and not just about women.
“It’s going to mean policies and programs may need to be adjusted to include the new diversity, in terms of dads on parental and paternity leave . . .,” she says, noting that some of the messaging around benefits may need to shift. “The good news is they’ve recognized the diversity of families today, and so any employer that has a diversity and inclusion initiative, it makes it much easier for them to say, ‘We’re providing gender equity for leaves and benefits.’”
The next question for employers will be what level of top-up benefit they’re going to provide, she adds. “We don’t have a good baseline of data on who’s topping up. We do know that Quebec tends to top up more because it’s much easier for an employer to top up when the replacement rate is 75 per cent and the top up is only 20 or 25, as opposed to trying to top up when it’s 40 or 45.”