Maternity leave in Canada explained

Maternity Leave in Ontario: A Guide

Navigating the journey of parenthood comes with its fair share of challenges and responsibilities, one of which includes understanding your entitlements to maternity and parental leave. In Canada, and more specifically in Ontario, these entitlements are governed by robust legislation designed to support new parents through this life-changing period. This article provides an overview of maternity and parental leave policies as outlined under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), the Canada Labour Code (CLC), and the federal Employment Insurance Act.

Maternity leave in Ontario is a period of up to 17 weeks of unpaid time off work provided to pregnant employees to support their health and wellbeing before and after childbirth.

Maternity and Parental Leave Entitlements

Following the birth or adoption of a child, Canadian employees are entitled to take leave from their workplaces, commonly referred to as maternity leave or pregnancy leave. The General Social Survey on Family indicates that 88% of mothers utilize some form of leave post-birth or adoption. Although traditionally less common, an increasing number of fathers are also taking advantage of parental leave.

Both maternity and parental leave are critical for employers and employees to understand, encompassing employment protections, rights, and benefits crucial for new parents.

 What Is Maternity Leave in Ontario?

Maternity leave in Ontario is a period of up to 17 weeks of unpaid time off work provided to pregnant employees to support their health and wellbeing before and after childbirth. This leave allows mothers to prepare for the arrival of their baby, recover from childbirth, and bond with their newborn without the worry of losing their job.

How Long Is Maternity Leave in Ontario?

Pregnant employees in Ontario are entitled to take up to 17 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This leave is designed to accommodate the health and familial needs of expectant mothers, providing them with the necessary time to care for themselves and their newborns.

When to Apply for Maternity Leave in Ontario?

Employees planning to take maternity leave should apply to their employer at least two weeks before they intend to start their leave. However, it’s advisable to discuss your plans with your employer as early as possible, especially since you might need to coordinate the start of your leave with your expected delivery date and any prenatal medical needs.

When Can You Start Maternity Leave in Ontario?

Maternity leave can begin no earlier than 17 weeks before the expected due date and no later than the actual date of birth. Employees have the flexibility to choose when to start their leave within this timeframe based on their personal, health, and family needs. If the baby is born before the due date, the leave can start on the day of the birth.

Maternity Leave Policy

Under the ESA and CLC, pregnant employees in Ontario have a right to up to 17 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This entitlement is contingent upon the employee having commenced work at least thirteen weeks before the due date. Maternity leave is a continuous period of leave, ensuring that mothers have uninterrupted time with their newborns. Importantly, taking maternity leave does not constitute a break in employment, allowing employees to maintain their rights to benefit plans and continue accruing seniority.

Parental Leave Policy

Parental leave is distinct from maternity leave and offers both parents, including adoptive parents, the right to take time off following the birth or adoption of a child. Birth mothers who have taken maternity leave are entitled to an additional 61 weeks of parental leave, while all other new parents can take up to 63 weeks. Like maternity leave, parental leave is unpaid, but employees retain their benefits and seniority. Parental leave must also be taken as a single continuous period.

Notification Requirements and Protections

Employees must provide their employer with at least two weeks’ written notice before commencing maternity or parental leave. Employers may request a medical certificate stating the baby’s due date for maternity leave planning. It’s crucial to note that the failure to provide notice does not affect the employee’s right to take leave.

The ESA safeguards employees from any penalties for taking, planning to take, or being eligible for maternity or parental leave. This includes protection against demotion, pay reduction, or termination due to leave. A notable Ontario court case awarded significant damages to an employee who was penalized by her employer after returning from maternity leave, highlighting the legal protections in place.

Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits for Maternity and Parental Leave

While maternity and parental leave in Ontario are unpaid, eligible employees can receive financial assistance through federal Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

  • Maternity benefits are available for pregnant employees or those who have recently given birth, covering up to 15 weeks. These benefits provide 55% of the employee’s average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount.
  • Parental benefits are available to both parents, including adoptive parents, and can be shared. Parents have the choice between standard parental benefits, which provide 55% of average insurable weekly earnings for up to 40 weeks (with one parent being able to receive benefits for up to 35 weeks), and extended parental benefits, which offer 33% of average insurable weekly earnings for up to 69 weeks (with one parent eligible for up to 61 weeks).

To receive EI maternity or parental benefits, employees must apply through Service Canada and have accumulated enough insurable employment hours in the 52 weeks before the claim or since the start of their last EI claim, whichever is shorter.

Maternity Leave Benefits
Duration Up to 15 weeks
Weekly Pay 55% of weekly pay, up to a maximum of $638
Parental Leave Benefits
Standard Benefit 55% of weekly pay, up to a maximum of $638 for 40 weeks
Additional Consideration One parent can only receive up to 35 weeks; remaining weeks must be claimed by the spouse
Extended Benefit 33% of weekly pay, up to a maximum of $383 for 69 weeks (One parent can claim up to 61 weeks)

In addition to the leave of absence and financial assistance, employees on maternity leave are granted certain rights to ensure job security. 


Understanding maternity and parental leave entitlements, rights, and obligations is essential for both employers and employees in Ontario. This guide aims to provide clear and concise information to support families through the maternity and parental leave process, ensuring that parents can make informed decisions about their leave and return to work confidently and securely.

Contact Achkar Law

Have questions about your maternity leave or concerns about being terminated while on leave? Achkar Law is here to support you. Our knowledgeable legal team can provide the advice and assistance you need to protect your rights. Contact us today for a consultation and let us help you address these critical employment law issues.

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Terminated While on Maternity Leave?

Being terminated during maternity leave can be a stressful experience, and it’s crucial to understand your rights under employment law. Achkar Law is committed to helping you deal with this challenging situation. Our employment lawyers can provide you with the necessary legal advice and support to challenge any unfair dismissal and ensure your rights are fully protected.