Maternity Leave: What Can the U.S. Learn from Canada?

August 7, 2016

Although healthcare in the United States is improving, professional women who have decided to have children often have many difficulties in the workplace. Although there is a standard maternity leave, only 60% of the workforce qualifies and compared to other countries it is short and unpaid forcing many women to return to work too quickly and suffer emotional trauma.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the maternity leave systems in the United States and Canada to see what the US can learn from the Canadian system.

Imagine This Scenario

You’re four months pregnant. You don’t ask for time off, just a reduction in hours. Instead of assisting you — you’re given more hours and told to take it or leave it. You can’t afford to stop working. You loose your child. You’re back to work a week later because you still can’t afford to not to work.

Sadly this is the true story of Alejandra Duarte. Tragic stories like this one are prompting changes, but this only begins to address a larger problem in the United States, pregnancy discrimination exists and it doesn’t appear as though the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is doing enough to help working mothers.

According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, in the United States, a woman can’t be discriminated against because of her medical condition.

The Family and Medical Act provides 3 months of UNPAID leave. Many mothers find that they actually need to use one month prior to given birth, which leaves them with only two months of leave, and during this period of time, their bodies are still making adjustments, physically and mentally.

Many women who return to work too early, often speak about the emotional damage, and as been likened it to physical torture.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

According to the United States Department of Labor, FMLA provides the following:

  • 12 weeks of unpaid leave
  • To qualify, an employee must have worked for 12 months or 1,250 hours
  • Employees can also utilize FMLA intermittently and work on a reduced schedule
  • The employee must be returned to their equivalent position

It’s apparent that many women are unaware of FMLA benefits, as pointed out in an article where a woman who had endometriosis, was actually told to work through her pain or she’d possibly be terminated.

It’s apparent that FMLA is not working effectively and it does not apply to businesses who employ less than 50 employees.

The video above highlights the fact that..

the United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t provide new parents with financial aid, in addition, only 11% of women who work at companies receive paid leave.

John Oliver took a humorous but yet serious look at Maternity Leave in America on his show Last Week Tonight that’s worth a look

Canadian Maternity Leave

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Between 18 — 50 weeks of paid pregnancy and parental benefits
  • Return to equivalent job with same benefits
  • Offers paid leave for either the mother or the father (parents can share the leave however they choose)

A Canadian father raved about the success of Canada’s generous maternity leave program:

“My wife got, basically, a year off, paid… She gets the equivalent of something like 90 percent of her salary, but it’s on a sliding scale depending on how close it is to the birth of the child.”

Canadian government ensures that companies adhere to the leave program. Canada also offers child care benefits to children who are under the age of six.

It appears that Canada’s government fully understands the need to assist new parents. In the CBC News video above, former prime minister Stephen Harper mentioned that parents who are on maternity leave, they were also eligible for a new program which will enabled them to start additional businesses while at home.

It’s apparent that Canada’s maternity leave system clearly outweighs what’s offered in the United States. However, this doesn’t mean that the system is perfect. It doesn’t stop pregnancy discrimination.

Regardless of whether it is the United States or Canada, some employers don’t want to be bothered with individuals who they believe may be starting a family. A article entitled, “The Dark Side of Maternity Leave”, reported the sentiments of one employer who said, “We have learned to avoid hiring people we feel will be having families.”

The same article shared views from a female editor of Vogue, who said “Year-long maternity leave, flexi hours and four day weeks…why would ANY boss hire a woman?”


Angie Mohr summed up what the United States can learn from Canada’s maternity leave…

“The U.S. has one of the poorest support systems for pregnant women and new mothers in the world. The Canadian system, on the other hand, provides at least a partial ongoing income for almost a year to give families time to adjust to the new addition, as well as guarantee of re-employment after a lengthy leave” — Maternity Leave Basics: Canada Vs. The U.S. by Angie Mohr,

In addition, because the Canadian system is mandated it forces companies that may not otherwise step up to institute maternity leave and benefits.

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