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Employment leave for parents after pregnancy or infant loss

Information for healthcare professionals and support services

After a loss it can be incredibly challenging for parents to access resources that support their ability to cope and grieve, which include employment leave entitlements. Struggling to understand eligibility requirements and requesting time away from work during the early days of an acute grief reaction can be extremely difficult. You may be approached by a parent looking for this information following their loss or may decide to offer it routinely as part of the support you provide to families who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss.

Employment leave can assist with grieving, physical healing, accessing healthcare services, and making various types of arrangements (eg. funeral, financial, travel). The decision to temporarily step away from work will be influenced by many factors including eligibility, personal finances, loss experience, etc. Healthcare and other support service providers may be asked to recommend what is “best” for a family. Ensuring that the appropriate resources (eg. a trusted family member or friend, social worker, mental health or peer supports) are available to assist parents with making these types of decisions is important.

Medical Documentation to Support Parents

Healthcare providers should consider providing medical documentation to facilitate parents’ initial absence from work after a pregnancy or infant loss. This is most helpful if done as early as possible upon suspicion or confirmation of fetal or infant death and may also include coverage for any pregnancy-related issues that could result in a loss. Offering this type of support relieves some of the pressure that parents may feel related to returning to work and allows them a few days or weeks to explore options for additional time off.

If you are a midwife, nurse practitioner, or physician, you may also be asked by a family to provide documentation stating the expected due date and actual date of a pregnancy or infant loss. Please keep in mind that many of these requests are time-sensitive and approval of benefits may be delayed or denied if this type of documentation is not received by the required deadline.

Leave Entitlements

Families should routinely be encouraged to reach out to a support person (or people) for assistance with exploring their options for employment leave. It is also helpful to direct families to their own human resources (HR) representatives within their individual workplaces. There may be agreements or policies in place that qualify parents for time and/or paid leave in addition to federal or provincial allowances. PAIL Network has produced three documents outlining information about leave entitlements specifically for parents who have experienced a loss (Time Away From Work After Your Pregnancy Loss, Time Away From Work After Your Stillbirth, and Time Away From Work After Your Infant Loss). Please refer to these resources for your own information and share them with parents.

Employment Insurance (EI)

Employees who meet certain criteria are eligible for temporary financial assistance if they are unable to   work due to pregnancy or infant loss. Sickness and/or maternity benefits may apply to these   circumstances (please refer to each of these links for descriptions and eligibility criteria to assist parents   in your care).

Employment Standards Act (ESA)

The Employment Standards Act (ESA) provides minimum standards, as well as rights and responsibilities, for most employees and workplaces in Ontario. There is a section dedicated to pregnancy leave, which includes information specific to pregnancy loss. Some of the phrasing and terminology used in the ESA can be confusing (eg. the use of “miscarriage” and “stillbirth” both being applied to pregnancy losses after 20 weeks gestation). At this time, employees who have had a pregnancy loss more than 17 weeks before their expected due date (ie. gestational age of approx. 23 weeks or less) are not entitled to pregnancy leave. An employee — birth parent, spouse or same-sex partner — who has experienced this type of loss is also not eligible for parental leave.

If parents do not qualify for pregnancy leave they may be entitled to time away from work through another type of ESA allowance. Parents who have experienced infant loss may be eligible for child death leave, crime-related child disappearance leave, or Federal Income Support grant.

Other types of leave/time off

In addition to EI benefits and ESA entitlements, parents may be eligible for time off (with or without pay) based on their employer’s policies, which may include sick time, short-term disability (STD), and long-term disability (LTD). Employers might also decide to provide parents with time off due to unforeseen or exceptional circumstances, which may not be fully represented within their existing policies. Encourage parents to access their HR representative or a Social Worker to help them explore these options.