How Much Pregnancy Leave Is Too Much?

So, I’m up north at HRPA 2014 and I’m learning so much about our Canadian HR brother and sisters (like the US it’s still mostly sisters!).  Did you know the maternity leave in Canada is 52 weeks!  That’s one year if your slow at math like me!  And that can be divided in any manner between the mother and father.  Plus, from the peers I spoke to, many get up to 55% of their salary for the entire time they off!

Obviously, the US has FMLA for only 12 weeks. By the way, the women I spoke to, who didn’t know this about the US, were completely shocked by this.  But, I was completely shocked by 52 weeks and 55% pay!

My question to you today is: How much pregnancy leave is too much?

Here are some thoughts I have between the US and Canadian policies:

1. 12 weeks is too short.  52 weeks seems too long.

2. I’m not sure how companies manage, especially those with a large female workforce, it would seem like a huge competitive disadvantage to lose your talent for so long, and still have to pay out so many resources for not having that talent.

3. I wish I would have had my 3 sons in Canada.

4. Should a government force a corporation to pay an employee for a very personal decision?  The company didn’t ask you to have babies, why should they pay 55% of your salary?  How is that decision different than many life decisions we make.  I want to train for an Ironman Triathlon – I expect it will take me 6 months. Pay me for that!

5. Canadians game the system just like Americans!  My Canadian HR peers had the same war stories as my American peers.  One was of a female business owner who got pregnant.  Since she owned the business she didn’t have to claim 52 weeks off.  So her husband took all 52 weeks and got paid 55% of his salary.  The HR person knew this was going on and couldn’t do anything about it.  People are people – given a set of rules, they’ll find ways around them.

I run a company that has had many pregnancies over the years, I hire an age that falls into the perfect age for baby making!  Each time we have one person out for 12 weeks, it’s a stress on the entire team.  I can’t even imagine how we would manage for 52 weeks!  A part of me is glad I don’t have to deal with that.  Another part of me wishes we had better maternity leave in the US.

I don’t know what the perfect number is, I’m sure it’s different for each family going through it.

What do you think?  What is the perfect amount of pregnancy leave?  If you were given the chance to design a plan, taking into account both the employee and the company resources, what would you do?



6 thoughts on “How Much Pregnancy Leave Is Too Much?

  1. The facts about maternity and parental leave in Canada are different than this blog post suggests. The link to the Employment Insurance site regarding these plans is below.-This way readers can see the facts as they really are.

    The Employment Insurance program covers the usual forms of unemployment, maternity and parental leave, some sick and disability coverage etc.

    I find the point #5 about ‘gaming the system’ a stretch-if one understands how it actually works they will quickly realize that the husband could not possibly have taken 52 weeks of paid leave. Do people ‘game’ the EI system? sure-but this example sounds like an urban myth rather than any form of reality.

    If objective discussion is the point then the facts need to first be presented accurately.

  2. Ah Tim, interesting feedback on what you learned in the great white North. Hope you enjoyed your Toronto visit. As mentioned above, employment insurance premiums are what is used to cover parental leave in Canada – paid for primarily by the employee and in part by the employer throughout their employment. The 55% has a cap however, which in many cases is lower than the employee’s salary to begin with. Although I didn’t personally take the full 12 months with our two youngest children (and it wasn’t yet 12 months leave when our oldest was born) I think a year is a great amount of time to be at home with a little one. The parents are far more comfortable when they return to work, it’s easier and less stressful to find childcare for a 1 year old vs a 3 month old, and the year is a reasonable amount of time to backfill with a contract position. I say this as a team manager who was watched our employees families grow and grow over the past several years. I’d much rather deal with backfilling the positions and knowing that the team member who’s gone through 9 months of wait for such an amazing personal journey gets to enjoy at least that much time at home with their baby.

  3. In terms of pregnancy, my office doesn’t call it ‘maternity leave’ anymore. FMLA time can be taken by either the baby’s mother or father, and we split that time in our family. It was great for dad to be able to bond with baby.

    In response to your concerns about how the team feels during the loss of a team member — Of course, every team struggles when someone is out long-term. However FMLA and short or long-term disability can happen for many reasons outside of having a baby. If an employee earns FMLA leave time, regardless of the reason, you and your team just have to make do. There is no law compelling you to pay the person while they are out — so you could hire a temp to help with the workload. Also, the job that they receive when they return needs only to be similar to the one that they left, meaning that you could immediately replace someone and move them into a new role upon return as long as it has similar responsibilities and the same pay.

    I think that healthy workers need to remember that FMLA time is not a vacation. New mothers may be recovering from a major surgery. They’re certainly taking care of a new baby. However since FMLA covers so many things – it could very easily be for a man to take care of his sick father, or as part of a disability claim. This is not a time to judge.

  4. Tim,
    It isn’t quite a simple as that. Maternity benefits in Canada are paid through the Employment Insurance premiums so your employer doesn’t foot the full 55% of your salary and the amount is capped so even if is only 20% of your income, that is all you are getting. The employer must keep your job open for a year. Yes, it is rich in comparison to US policy. Most employers hire a contract employee for a year to cover a mat leave instead of leaving that position open. As a Canadian working in the US and having to cover someone else’s job a couple of times for maternity leave, believe me, I wished for that civilized approach but I personally wouldn’t trade all the risks and rewards of working in US that I have enjoyed over the years, then again, I have never taken a mat loa. Pets are forgiving that way.

  5. Coming from the UK 52 weeks isn’t all that strange. My current company offer about half that on full pay with a few weeks on government statutory pay and the remainder unpaid. Personally I feel that’s the perfect balance.

    A previous company offerd a year on full pay. Their reasoning being that women were under represented in the workforce and so this was a good retention tool. My personal experience of that however was that many mums took the year, came back for c1 year before having a second child for another year’s pay and then resigned shortly after returning, citing childcare costs as the major issue. (This is a problem for some people where coming into work earns about enough to pay for childcare to allow you to come into work…)

    So, does 52 weeks leave work? Yup with no issues, we are big enough to afford to hire FTCs or contract workers or use it as a development opportunity for more junior employees.

    Does 52 weeks on full pay work? Not so sure as it can be counter productive in the long term as a retention tool.

    Will these policies work for small or even medium enterprises? Nope, not affordable IMHO.

    Good topic!


  6. I’m a little over 7 months pregnant and LUCKY that I work for an employer that offers a generous paid maternity leave policy … but maternity leave in America is really in a sad state and, unfortunately, the only people you hear complaining about it are pregnant women who DON’T get maternity leave … and we tend to be able to mentally write them off as people who should have saved, prepared more, worked harder, etc.

    As long as we all have the same feeling that you outlined above (which I think represents a majority of people in the U.S. who give birth here) of “I wish it was a year long when I had my baby, but I think a year is too long for everyone else.” 🙂 It will be hard to change the rules — currently 12 weeks of unpaid leave is the minimum AFTER you qualify for FMLA.

    I wrote this on the topic if you’re interested at all:

    Great post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.