The federal government has launched an online consultation about introducing more flexible employment insurance benefits for employees taking maternity, parental and caregiving leave.

The 2016 budget included $2.7 billion over the next two years for improvements to employment insurance.

Read: How to support working caregivers

“Caring for a child or seriously ill family member puts tremendous pressure on many Canadians to balance their family and work responsibilities,” Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said in a release. “Employment insurance parental and caregiving benefits and leaves should be flexible and inclusive to meet the needs of today’s families. This is why I want to hear Canadians’ views on how we can better support parents and caregivers.”

The government is considering two options to increase the flexibility of maternity and parental leave, neither of which would change the amount of benefits received.

The first option would allow working parents to take an 18-month leave and receive reduced benefits.

Quebec employees already have the option of choosing reduced benefits: workers covered by the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan can choose between the basic plan’s 18 weeks of maternity leave at 70 per cent pay or the special plan’s 15 weeks at 75 per cent of pay.

The second option allows parents to take leave in smaller, non-consecutive blocks of time over 18 months rather than 12 months. “For example, a parent could receive maternity and parental benefits for six months, then return to work for six months while a relative provides child care, then go back on parental leave and receive benefits for another six months,” the consultation reads.

Read: Will 18-month parental leave reduce pressures on working families?

The government is also seeking input on increasing maternity leave flexibility to accommodate employees during pregnancy, such as access to maternity benefits more than eight weeks before the expected due date.

To increase flexibility for caregivers, the government could expand the medical criteria that determine eligibility to the compassionate care benefit and the parents of critically ill children benefit, or could introduce a new benefit that covers a broader range of situations, the consultation notes. Other options include enhancing existing unpaid leave or creating new unpaid leaves, both without corresponding benefits.

The report also points out benefits expansions would likely require “a modest increase” in employment insurance paid by both employers and employees, and increased costs for temporary replacements.

Canadians can participate in the consultation through this portal between Oct. 6 and Nov. 4, 2016.

Read: How to bridge the parental leave divide

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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