Maternity and Parental Leave in BC: A Guide for Employers

  • Leave and Absence
Maternity leave in BC
Olivia Cicchini

Olivia Cicchini, Employment Law Expert

(Last updated )

Maternity leave is a crucial time for employees and employers alike. In British Columbia, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) outlines employers' obligation to allow employees to take maternity leave. Employers must also accommodate maternity leave by ensuring that pregnant employees can take the necessary time off work without fear of job loss. This includes providing job security, preserving benefits, and allowing a smooth transition back to work after the leave period.  

Here are some key aspects to consider that can help you navigate BC maternity leave rules: 

How long is maternity leave in BC?  

According to BC employment standards, eligible employees are entitled to a combined 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave, that’s including a two-week waiting period. Maternity leave can be combined with parental leave. Unlike maternity leave, which is typically taken by birth mothers, parental leave is available to either parent. This means that if the birth mother takes maternity leave, she can then transition into parental leave while the other parent can go on leave as well.  

Maternity leave can start up to 13 weeks before the expected due date, giving expectant mothers time to prepare for the arrival of their child. The leave officially begins after the last day worked or any other leave the employee is already taking, such as paid vacation. If the baby is born early, then the employee has to start maternity leave on the day the baby is born. 

When to notify the employer 

Employees are required to provide written notice to their employer at least four weeks before the start date of their maternity or parental leave. If the notice couldn’t be given in advance due to unforeseen circumstances, then employees should provide notice as early as they possibly can.  

Need help creating a maternity leave policy for your business in BC?

Let our HR experts help you develop maternity and parental leave policies that comply with provincial regulations and protect your employees’ rights.

Parental leave in BC 

In addition to maternity leave, expectant mothers are entitled to parental leave after giving birth. In BC, parental leave is also available to parents of a newborn or newly adopted child.  

There are two leave options for eligible employees: 

  • Standard parental leave: Up to 37 consecutive weeks and taken within 52 weeks (12 months). 
  • Extended parental leave: Up to 63 consecutive weeks and taken within 78 weeks (18 months). 

Employees can apply for the Employment Insurance (EI) parental benefit from the federal government and parental leave allowance from the BC Public Service. 

When both parents are sharing the standard parental leave, they can receive benefits for up to 40 weeks. However, one parent can’t receive more than 35 weeks of standard benefits. 

For extended parental leave, both parents can get up to 69 weeks of benefits. But one parent can’t receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefits. 

Maternity leave pay in BC 

Maternity leave in BC is unpaid. However, employees may be eligible for EI benefits through the federal government. Employers are not responsible for providing paid leave directly.  

While on maternity leave, the employee's employment benefits are usually unaffected. But employees can choose to cancel any extended health and dental coverage or any optional life insurance plans. 

As an employee, your vacation entitlements and vacation pay will be pro-rated from the start date of your leave and continue to accrue. Once you’ve returned to work for more than six months, the accrued vacation days will be credited to you if you’ve met these conditions: 

  1. You return to work for a period no less than 6 months after being on leave. 
  2. You haven’t received parental leave allowance. 
  3. You were employed prior to March 28, 2001. 

OR: 

  • You're covered under the Crown Counsel Agreement and return to work for a period not less than 6 months after being on leave. 

How much can you get in EI benefits? 

For maternity leave, the birth mother can receive a weekly maximum of $650 for up to 15 weeks. The same amount applies for standard parental leave while extended parental leave has a weekly maximum of $390. 

You can use an EI benefits calculator to figure out how much money you’re entitled to. 

Returning to work from maternity leave 

When returning to work from maternity leave, employees in BC have the right to resume their previous position or an equivalent role without losing any benefits, seniority, or other entitlements they had before the leave. Employers are not allowed to terminate or change the terms of their employment. 

Ideally, employees should notify their employers about returning to work at least four weeks in advance. This gives your employer ample time to plan your reinstatement accordingly.  

Employees also have the option of returning to work early from maternity leave. Returning to work early can be beneficial if your personal circumstances change or if you feel ready to go back to work earlier than anticipated.  

Here are a few things to keep in mind when an employee return to work from maternity leave:  

The right to be reinstated: Employees have the right to return to the same position they held before or to a comparable position. If employers wish to make changes, they have to discuss them with the employee and come to a mutual agreement. 

Rights against discrimination: Employees have the right to return to work free from discrimination or retaliation due to their pregnancy or maternity leave.  

Benefits: The employer must continue the employee’s benefits, including health and dental coverage throughout their leave and return to work.  

Reasonable accommodations: If the employee needs adjustments to work conditions, duties, or schedules due to health or family-related reasons, including the need to breastfeed, then employers must provide them with reasonable accommodations. 

Can employers request medical certificates and documentation? 

Yes, employers can request a medical certificate confirming the expected due date if the employee plans to take maternity leave before the child's birth. Employers can also request this information if the employee asks for additional leave related to the birth or if the pregnancy is terminated.  

What are employers’ obligations regarding maternity leave in BC? 

Employers in BC have several obligations when it comes to maternity leave. According to the ESA, eligible employees are entitled to maternity leave and employers must not deny them this right. 

Here is an overview of some of these obligations:  

Job protection: Employers must guarantee that an employee's job is protected during their leave. Employees can’t be terminated, laid off, or asked to resign due to their pregnancy or for taking maternity leave.  

Notice and documentation: Employers are required to provide employees with the necessary information about their rights and obligations regarding maternity leave. Employees should be informed about the length of leave, job protection, and any required documentation. 

Maintaining benefits and coverages: Employers must maintain the employee's benefits coverage, including health and dental benefits, during maternity leave. This ensures that employees continue to have access to necessary medical coverage. 

Protection from discrimination and reprisals: Employers are prohibited from taking any retaliatory actions against employees for taking maternity leave. This includes any form of punishment or discrimination related to their pregnancy.  

Do you need help creating a maternity leave policy in BC? 

Let our experienced HR professionals help you develop and implement maternity leave policies that ensure legal compliance and maintain your employees’ rights in the workplace.  

From calculating leave benefits to establishing a seamless return-to-work process, our team has you covered. Contact us today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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