Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. Very often however the good news of a pregnancy is accompanied by feelings of worry about the expenses associated with it. Some women also worry about the effect a pregnancy can have on their job security. Fortunately, The Maternity Leave Act (“the Act”) addresses a woman’s right and entitlement to maternity leave as well as to pay during maternity leave.
Employers are generally obliged to grant maternity leave where a woman has been continuously employed for at least one year at the time she proceeds on leave, has expressed an intention to return to work with the employer at the end of her maternity leave, and where requested, has provided a medical report on her pregnancy. In some countries, such as Canada, legislation has been enacted that speaks to parental leave as opposed to maternity leave, as both the father and mother are entitled to take time off work when having or adopting a baby. Unfortunately, our legislation has not yet evolved to embrace this concept, as a “worker” is clearly defined under the Act as meaning an individual of the female sex.
The minimum period for maternity leave as provided for in the Act is 12 weeks. This period may be extended by an additional 14 weeks if a woman develops an illness as a result of pregnancy or based on the state of the child’s health. Many women believe that they are required by law to wait until their baby is born to go on maternity leave. This is in fact not the case. A pregnant worker may proceed on maternity leave from as early as 11 weeks prior to her due date. A woman will also be entitled to maternity leave after a late stage miscarriage.
The Act requires employers to provide “maternity pay” for the first eight weeks of maternity leave, however, some employers opt to make maternity payments for the full 12 week period. The Act details how the period of continuous employment should be determined and how maternity pay should be computed. Surprisingly, there are still countries in which employers are not mandated to provide paid maternity leave. As such, we can be grateful that our legislators at least appreciated the importance of ensuring that mothers are not entirely deprived of income while on maternity leave.