Pregnancy leave is an optional, unpaid leave of absence that can start before the baby is born, or on the day of birth at the absolute latest. Pregnancy leave can last up to a maximum of 17 weeks, but if the employee is still pregnant, she may continue on the leave until the birth of the child.

According to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), pregnancy leave is a statutory leave under section 46 of the ESA, meaning it is a protected leave from work– your job will be secure and waiting for you when you get back. Pregnancy leave is unpaid, and your employer does not have to pay you for your time off.

Pregnant employees are entitled to both pregnancy leave and parental leave, but what is the difference? Let’s break down parental leave, and then explore the main differences.

While pregnancy leave is only for the birth-giving parent, parental leave can be extended to both parents after birth. Parental leave is a statutory leave in section 48 of the ESA.

New parents, who have worked for their employer for at least 13 weeks prior, are entitled to take parental leave. The birth mother is entitled to a leave of up to 61 weeks, while all other parents are entitled to take up to 63 weeks of parental leave.

Parental leave is not related to pregnancy leave, and birth-giving parents can take 17 weeks of pregnancy leave in addition to 61 weeks of parental leave. Both pregnancy and parental leave in Ontario are unpaid. In addition, both parents can be on parental leave at the same time.

To review the main differences: pregnancy leave usually starts before the baby is born, or on the day of birth (other than the exception explained above). It’s up to 17 weeks and is unpaid. Pregnancy leave only applies to the pregnant parent.

Parental leave, on the other hand, can be extended to both parents. The main difference is that it is significantly longer, and open to both parents—not just the parent who had given birth. Parental leave in Ontario is also unpaid, but some parents may receive payments from their employers or employment insurance benefits. Because both pregnancy and parental leave are protected by the ESA, they allow the employee to be able to comfortably focus on their family, and not have to worry about whether or not their job will still be there when they are ready to return. An employer cannot penalize an employee in any way for taking either pregnancy or parental leave.