When a new baby joins the family, family members often shift their focus from their multiple responsibilities to care for their children. Those first few days, weeks and months are a special time for the new parents and a critical formative period for the baby. However, taking a leave from work, activities, school and volunteer commitments requires flexibility and creative planning between family members and their employers.
Dads embracing paternity leave – where it’s offered
During the 2015 federal election, the newly elected federal government committed to extending parental benefits from 12 to 18 months. More recently, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour stated that she is particularly interested in setting aside time for dads, by making paternity leave a part of the changes to parental leave through the Employment Insurance (EI) program. At present time, paternity benefits are only available to dads residing in Quebec.
In Quebec, paternity benefits were first introduced in 2006 through the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), which has encouraged fathers to take a leave from work to focus on caring for a newborn child. Under QPIP, which offers more parental and paternity benefits and a greater degree of flexibility, a growing share of fathers have taken leave, and the program currently has an overall participation rate of 86.6% for eligible fathers.
According to Statistics Canada, 27.1% of recent fathers claimed or intended to take parental leave in 2014. However, this number is greatly skewed by the differences between fathers in Quebec and those in the rest of Canada. For fathers in Quebec, 78.3% claimed or intended to claim parental leave (up from 27.8% in 2005 before QPIP was implemented), compared with 9.4% outside of Quebec.
Since fathers in Quebec have embraced parental and paternity leave, many families and policy makers in other provinces have been discussing the possibility of extending paternity benefits to dads across Canada. The exact details of the government’s commitments are in the planning stage, and families are wondering whether the new plans will take a similar form to those in Quebec.
In Quebec, eligible fathers have access to 3 weeks of benefits at 75% of average weekly insurable earnings or 5 weeks at 70% of average insurable weekly earnings, up to a yearly maximum of $71,500. Average weekly insurable earnings consist of an employee’s basic, regular pay before taxes, not including any bonuses, commissions or tips.
Research shows parental leave can have a significant impact on father involvement
In a recent study comparing parental leave in Quebec with the rest of Canada, author Ankita Patnaik found that when given the option, most men embrace paternity leave. She found that before QPIP, Quebec fathers took an average 2 weeks of leave. After the parental leave policy was reformed, the average Quebec father took the full five weeks available under the paternity leave program. Patnaik’s study also found that in Quebec, there was a “large and persistent impact” on gender dynamics in the 3-year period following parental leave. Fathers remained more likely to do housework, while mothers were more likely to engage in paid work.
In the rest of Canada, maternity and parental benefits are calculated at 55% of a parent’s average insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $50,800 as of January 1, 2016. Eligible fathers may access a portion of the parental benefits by sharing with their partner (either consecutively or concurrently), as benefits are not dad-specific. Parental leave consists of 35 weeks of benefits, which is available to eligible parents. The benefits can be taken by one parent exclusively or shared among both parents, in whatever combination makes sense for their family (e.g. 25 consecutive weeks for one parent and 10 consecutive weeks for the other).
Many employers also stepping up to support dads
From the employer’s point of view, the introduction of paternity benefits will likely mean that a growing share of new dads will take a leave following the birth or adoption of a child, and may be on leave for a longer period of time. Fathers may also chose to use accumulated vacation, take advantage of their organization’s paternity leave program or share parental benefits with their partners.
If paternity benefits are introduced, it may affect human resources policies with regards to leave and benefits. Some employers offer additional support to new parents in the form of top-up benefits – a predetermined percentage of the employee’s salary as a supplement to the 55% received by EI. Employers may offer employment to temporary staff to replace employees on leave and revise human resources policies to explicitly include “fathers.”
One of the organizations in Canada that has introduced support to new dads is multinational professional services firm Deloitte. They currently offer two options for new fathers: 3 weeks of paid time off at 100% of their salary or a 6-week top-up of their EI benefits to 100% of their salary. The Deloitte Dads Network is also planning a round table in 2016 to create a survival guide for use following the birth or adoption of a child – a time in which support from the employer and colleagues can be valuable and contribute to the success of the transition to and from leave.
Becoming a parent and bringing home a new baby is an unforgettable and life-changing event for any family. Planning for a leave and ensuring financial security requires an understanding of government benefits, employer top-ups and workplace policies and programs. This is an exciting and anxious time for any growing family. Eligible families who access benefits and supports ensure the new baby is surrounded by a parent’s love and attention from day one.
Sara MacNaull is the Program Director at the Vanier Institute of the Family and is currently working toward earning the Work–Life Certified Professional designation.
Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams
Modern Fatherhood: Paternal Involvement and Family Relationships by Ian DeGeer, Humberto Carolo and Todd Minerson