Maternity Leave in the U.S. vs. Canada: Contrasts and Comparisons

Compare the differences in maternity leave policies between the United States and Canada to understand the varying approaches to supporting new parents.

Maternity leave policies in the United States and Canada exhibit significant contrasts and comparisons in terms of duration, eligibility, and financial support. Here's an overview of the key differences and similarities between the two countries:

United States:

  1. Duration:

    • In the U.S., there is no federally mandated paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which can be used for maternity and paternity leave.
  2. Eligibility:

    • FMLA eligibility is limited to employees who work for employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius and who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, accumulating at least 1,250 hours of service during that time.
  3. Paid Leave:

    • Paid maternity leave in the U.S. is typically provided by employers as a voluntary benefit. However, it varies widely, and many employees do not receive paid leave. Some states have implemented their own paid family and medical leave programs.
  4. Job Protection:

    • FMLA guarantees unpaid job protection, but it doesn't require paid leave. Job protection ensures that employees can return to their previous or equivalent positions after taking maternity leave.


  1. Duration:

    • In Canada, new mothers can access Employment Insurance (EI) maternity benefits for up to 15 weeks. In addition to maternity leave, there is also parental leave, which provides an additional 35 weeks of benefits that can be shared between parents.
  2. Eligibility:

    • To qualify for EI maternity and parental benefits, individuals must have worked a minimum number of insurable hours in the 52 weeks leading up to their claim. This requirement varies by region.
  3. Paid Leave:

    • Maternity leave benefits in Canada are paid at a rate of 55% of a person's average weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount. In some provinces, additional benefits or top-up programs may be offered by employers or provincial governments.
  4. Job Protection:

    • Canadian employees are generally protected by job security and cannot be terminated due to pregnancy or maternity leave. Employers must also provide their employees with similar positions upon their return.


  1. Duration:

    • Canada offers a more extended duration for maternity and parental leave benefits compared to the U.S. In the U.S., the maximum available is 12 weeks of unpaid leave through FMLA.
  2. Eligibility:

    • The eligibility criteria in both countries vary, but Canada's EI system may be more accessible to a broader range of workers.
  3. Paid Leave:

    • Canadian maternity leave benefits are partially paid, while U.S. maternity leave is typically unpaid unless provided voluntarily by employers or through state programs in some cases.
  4. Job Protection:

    • Both countries provide job protection for eligible employees during maternity leave. In the U.S., it's guaranteed under FMLA, while in Canada, it's a standard practice.

In summary, the key difference between the two countries is the duration of maternity leave and the financial support provided. Canada offers longer paid maternity leave through its EI program, whereas the U.S. lacks a federal paid maternity leave mandate and provides unpaid leave through FMLA. Eligibility, job protection, and other aspects may also differ, depending on the specific circumstances and location within each country.

The U.S. vs. Canada: Maternity Leave Differences.

There are a number of key differences between maternity leave in the United States and Canada.

United States

  • Federal law: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain family and medical reasons, including the birth of a child.
  • State law: Some states have their own maternity leave laws that provide additional benefits to employees, such as paid leave or longer leave periods. However, most states do not have any additional maternity leave laws beyond the FMLA.
  • Employer-provided leave: Some employers offer paid maternity leave to their employees, but this is not required by law. The amount of paid leave offered varies from employer to employer.


  • Federal law: The Employment Insurance (EI) maternity leave program provides eligible employees with up to 15 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child. The weekly benefit rate is 55% of the employee's average earnings, up to a maximum.
  • Parental leave: Eligible employees can also take up to 35 weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The weekly benefit rate for parental leave is the same as for maternity leave.
  • Employer-provided leave: Some employers offer additional paid parental leave to their employees, but this is not required by law.

Other key differences

  • Job protection: In the United States, employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to return to the same job or an equivalent position. In Canada, employees who take EI maternity or parental leave are also entitled to return to the same job or an equivalent position.
  • Flexibility: In Canada, employees can choose to take their maternity and parental leave in a number of different ways, such as taking all 50 weeks of leave at once or splitting the leave over multiple periods. In the United States, there is less flexibility in how employees can take FMLA leave.
  • Paternity leave: In Canada, fathers are eligible to take the same amount of paid maternity and parental leave as mothers. In the United States, there is no federal law that requires employers to provide paid paternity leave.


The United States and Canada have very different maternity leave policies. In general, Canada's maternity leave policy is more generous than the United States' policy, providing employees with more paid leave and more flexibility in how they can take their leave.