Pregnant Canadians worry they won’t get parental leave benefits because work hours affected by COVID-19

When Kayla Erhardt found out she was “unexpectedly expecting” in January, she never imagined her pregnancy would unfold parallel to a pandemic.

“I had a plan for my maternity hours and COVID unfortunately threw a wrench in that.”

When the pandemic began its march across Canada, Erhardt says her doctor advised her to stop working temporarily until more was discovered about the virus. She took two months off and collected the CERB. In June she found a new part-time position as a home care aide but she worries she won’t have the 600 hours required to collect the EI maternity and parental benefits by her October due date.

“Even if I am able to work up until when I can deliver, which is highly unlikely in my type of job, I still won’t have the 600 hours,” Erhardt says.

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“Now I’m kinda wondering — what’s going to happen? How am I going to support this baby? How am I going to support myself? Contribute to the household?”

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Lior Samfiru, a Toronto-based employment lawyer, says he’s been hearing from many clients with the same concerns.

“How do I get paid? What am I going to do? And am I going to have enough hours?” Samfiru says. “I don’t know why they haven’t simply said that you will be able to get the CERB because it’s essentially the same amount that you would get from EI. It’s roughly 500 dollars a week and that’s a system that’s separate from EI. So, perhaps that’s the easiest solution.”

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According to a spokesperson from Employment and Social Development Canada, “The Government of Canada recognizes the concerns of expectant parents regarding access to EI maternity and parental benefits. We are exploring additional measures to address the financial well-being of all Canadian workers, as part of our response to COVID-19.”

Ryley Mennie, a Vancouver-based employment lawyer, advises employees to advocate for themselves in the meantime.

“I think fundamentally it’s on the employee and the employer to have an arrangement that allows them qualify,” Mennie says. “It’s difficult to find an easy way to patch that but I do think the emergency wage subsidy is one avenue that may be available for an employee to approach an employer and say, ‘I would really like to avoid a layoff so I can qualify for the hourly threshold.’”

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Erhardt isn’t looking for a handout, just an amendment to the 600 hour-rule. She imagines she’ll be close to 420 or 430 hours by the time she reaches her due date.

“Thankfully I’ve got a great employer that’s very understanding and they’re willing to work with me so I can try to at least get what I need, put forth the effort,” Erhardt says. “But at the same time I’m not going to kill myself and put my baby in jeopardy to get my 600 hours.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Pregnancy in the time of pandemic

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