A Tale of Two Maternity Leaves: U.S. vs Canada

Yay! You’re having a baby! Now that your bundle of joy is on the way, it’s important to figure out what your maternity leave will look like. Knowing how many weeks you’ll have off work and what kind of financial benefits you can expect will help you plan and budget accordingly.

Of course, it’s no secret that maternity leave in the U.S. badly lags other developed countries.

My colleague, Tom, and his wife, Radhika, discovered just how far behind U.S. mat leave is after they moved from Toronto to San Francisco two years ago. Their first child, now 3, was born in Canada, while their second child, now six months, was born in the U.S.

I asked Tom to share his family’s experiences and give some insight into what mat leave was like financially in both countries. Here’s what he and his wife found:

Good-Bye 12 Months, Hello 12 Weeks (Unpaid)

In Canada, Radhika took an entire year off work after she had our first baby. All 52 weeks were paid in some way too, either by her employer or through a minimum government (Employment Insurance) benefit.

After we moved stateside, we quickly learned that mat leave policy is very different in the U.S. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows Moms to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave – that’s it.

Plus, if you work at a company with less than 50 employees, this benefit does not apply to you, which means any mat leave you’ll get is pretty much left up to the tender mercies of your boss – not always a good thing!

California to the Rescue – Sort Of

Fortunately, California offers a paid family leave benefit to new parents. The leave comes courtesy of the 2002 Paid Family Leave Act, which allows California residents to take time off for a variety of family duties, including bonding with a baby.

New mothers get state disability insurance for up to 8 weeks with the birth of a new child. This benefit is 55% of your salary, up to a maximum amount of $1,104 per week.

Moms also get 12 weeks of family leave, six of which get paid by the state at 55% of your salary, up to the same maximum of $1104 per week. That’s actually more than double the Canadian max weekly government benefit of $524, believe it or not.

The Employer Part of the Equation

In both Canada and the U.S., where you work can have big financial implications for your maternity leave. Many employers provide paid maternity leave, but the amount and duration of the payouts vary from company to company.

It might surprise some readers that U.S. companies tend to pay mat leave benefits roughly in-line with their Canadian counterparts. In Silicon Valley, where my wife works, employers generally give two to four months of leave at full pay. She got 8 weeks, although her company recently changed the policy to 4 months (unfortunately past the time when she was eligible).

Some employers provide paid maternity leave in excess of four months, although this is probably slightly less common in the U.S. than in Canada.

Financial Implications of the Two Systems

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the real-world differences between U.S. and Canadian mat leaves. These are how the financials and time off shook out for us in Canada (baby#1) and the U.S. (baby#2!).

Maternity Leave Chart

How It Went

Thanks to California’s progressive family leave policy, a decent employer benefit and lots of banked vacation days, Radhika took just under six months off with our baby. That’s not even close to the year she got in Canada with our first child, but it’s still fairly long by American standards.

The good news is that for U.S. families, longer maternity leaves could be on the way: President Obama vowed in his State of the Union speech to make family leave a key priority during his final two years in office. It’s possible that U.S. mat leave policy might soon look a little bit more like Canada’s, and that’s something U.S. moms, dads and kids could all benefit from!