Time away from work after your stillbirth
The information in this resource is for parents who have experienced pregnancy loss at 20 weeks or later.
After a loss, it can be difficult to access and understand information that will support you and your family, which includes information about taking time off from work. Being away from your job can allow you to grieve, heal physically, access health care and/or support services, and make arrangements (eg. funeral, financial, travel). The decision to go on a leave from work will depend on many factors including what you are eligible for, what you can afford financially, and your personal loss experience. It is important to remember that you may be eligible for more than one type of leave benefit and to explore all of the options appropriate to your situation. You may find it helpful to have a trusted support person, as well as your human resources (HR) representative and/or a social worker, assist you in determining how to receive all of the time and financial benefits you are entitled to.
During the days and weeks after a loss it can be quite overwhelming to read, understand, and act on the information in this guide. Here is a list of the main points to begin, followed by more detailed information:
- You may be eligible for more than one type of benefit to support your time away from work
- It is often too difficult to explore these options yourself. If this is the case for you, you may want to consider asking a trusted family member or friend to help you
- If you require time off from work at any point before, during, or after your loss due to any associated medical issues (including emotional or psychological distress) you can request written documentation from a care provider to support you in doing so
- Many parents will qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) maternity and/or sickness benefits
- If your stillbirth occurred within 17 weeks of the expected due date, you may be entitled to pregnancy leave (unpaid) under the Employment Standards Act (ESA)
- Most employees taking pregnancy leave have certain rights including being entitled to the same job (or a comparable one) upon returning to work
- You, your partner, or other family members may be entitled to the ESA personal emergency leave (PEL) if you do not qualify for pregnancy leave
- For assistance or clarification about your options for time away from work contact Service Canada – Employment Insurance (EI), Employment Standards Act (ESA), your HR representative, or another support person (eg. social worker)
Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits
Birth parents of stillborn babies (stillbirth is defined by EI as pregnancy loss that occurs at 20 weeks gestation or later) qualify for 15 weeks of maternity benefits, which are intended for biological mothers who are unable to work because they are pregnant or have recently given birth. To be eligible for this type of EI benefit, there are certain criteria you must meet. When applying you will need to sign a declaration stating your child’s date of birth. If you do not feel ready to return to work after these 15 weeks, and/or if your partner feels they need some time off, we would encourage you to speak with a health-care provider about applying for sickness benefits. This benefit provides up to 15 weeks of temporary financial assistance to employees who are unable to work because of a health issue. To qualify you must meet certain criteria and have a health care provider complete the Medical Certificate for Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits. To find out if you are eligible, you are asked to apply online. To speak with someone directly about any questions you may have, please call 1-800-206-7218 (TTY: 1-800-529-3742) or access the nearest Service Canada office.
The Employment Standards Act (ESA)
In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) provides standards as well as rights and responsibilities for most employees and workplaces, which include how much time off parents are granted after their stillbirth. The information below is based on the ESA guidelines.
An employee who has had a stillbirth is entitled to pregnancy leave (unpaid) if they meet the following criteria:
- Employed by a workplace covered by ESA
- Started employment at least 13 weeks before the expected date of delivery or “due date”
- Their stillbirth occurred within 17 weeks of the expected date of delivery (approx. 24 or more weeks pregnant); this means that parents who have experienced a stillbirth after 20 weeks but before 24 weeks will not qualify for pregnancy leave, which can be confusing because stillbirth is usually considered a pregnancy loss at or after 20 weeks gestation
If you qualify for pregnancy leave it will be at least 17 weeks long and will end by the later of:
- 17 weeks after your pregnancy leave begins (i.e. the date you had started the leave prior to your loss or on the day of your loss); or
- 12 weeks after your stillbirth (unless your pregnancy leave started prior to January 1st, 2018 then you would only be entitled to 6 weeks)
If you will be taking pregnancy leave you are required to give your employer written notice within 2 weeks of stopping work, which includes:
- The date your pregnancy leave started
- If your employer requests it, a certificate from a legally qualified medical practitioner (Midwife, Nurse Practitioner or Physician) stating your expected due date and actual date of your stillbirth.
Employees who take a pregnancy leave have certain rights under the ESA including the right to reinstatement (to have the same or a comparable job when returning to work), the right to be free from penalty, the right to continue to participate in benefit plans, and the right to accumulate time towards their length of employment, service, and seniority.
At this time, employees who have had a stillbirth more than 17 weeks before their due date (approx. 23 weeks or less pregnant) are not entitled to pregnancy or parental leave. If you do not qualify for pregnancy leave you and/or your partner may be entitled to the ESA personal emergency leave (PEL), which provides 10 days of job-protected leave each calendar year due to illness, injury, death, and certain emergencies and urgent matters.
Other Types of Leave/Time Off
In addition to EI benefits and ESA entitlements you may be eligible for time off, with or without pay, based on your employer’s policies. Options that may be available to support your time away from work include sick time, short-term disability (STD), and long-term disability (LTD). Again, this will depend on your particular workplace policies and insurance plan. Your employer might also decide to provide you with time off due to unforeseen or exceptional circumstances, which may not be fully represented within their existing policies. Asking your HR representative or a social worker to help you explore these options is a good place to start.