09/20/2012 01:17 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST

Parents to get new EI benefits under bill introduced today

Workers who get sick while on parental leave will be able to collect sickness benefits under new legislation introduced today.

The government expects about 6,000 people to take advantage of the measure, which provides up to 15 weeks of benefits through Employment Insurance. It means workers can either pause their parental leave to take the sickness leave, or take the sickness leave once the parental leave is up.

The bill also lays out already-announced details of the government's plan to provide EI benefits to the parents of critically ill or injured children and for parents of missing and murdered children.

It will also change the Labour Code to:

- Protect the jobs of parents who take a leave of absence to care for critically ill or injured children.

- Allow for unpaid leave for parents whose child dies or disappears as a result of a suspected criminal code offence.

- Protect the jobs of parents whose child dies or disappears as a result of a suspected criminal code offence.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley tabled the legislation in the House of Commons Thursday.

"We're improving the EI program to make it more flexible for Canadians by adding benefits for parents who need to take time away from work and focus on their child who is critically ill or injured, and help them to focus on what really matters," Finley said.

"The last thing that a parent should have to worry about at such a time is a mortgage payment or losing their job."

Unpaid leave, grants also offered

Bruno Serre, whose daughter Brigitte was murdered in 2006, said he had to go back to work after a few weeks and found it nearly impossible to be productive. If he'd had the EI benefits proposed in this legislation, he said, he would have been able to regain his health and spend more time with his spouse and other children.

"When I got home at night, I was tired, exhausted. I had no energy to take care of my family and myself. That situation went on for months," Serre said.

The benefits for parents of ill or missing and murdered children were promised during the 2011 election campaign.

The benefits set out in the legislation would provide income support for up to 35 weeks for parents or legal guardians of children under 18 with a life-threatening illness or injury, confirmed by a medical certificate.

As many as 6,000 families are expected to take advantage of money for critically ill or injured children, which would be in place by June, 2013 if the bill passes. It can be combined with the existing compassionate care benefit, which provides up to six weeks of employment insurance for people caring for a sick loved one who is at risk of dying within six months.

Parents will have the option of sharing the benefits within a 52-week period. The money won't be offered after the maximum 35 weeks has been paid, the one-year benefit period ends or the child no longer needs care.

The changes to the Labour Code to protect the jobs of parents who take unpaid leave to care for a critically ill child or for parents whose child dies or disappears as the result of a suspected crime would take effect next January for parents of missing or murdered children and next June for the parents of sick kids.

Another benefit included in the bill is a grant for parents of missing or murdered children. If the bill passes, starting Jan. 1, 2013, those parents will be eligible for $350 a week for up to 35 weeks. The grant is available if they have left their jobs. The grant will continue for two weeks after a missing child is found, as long as they haven't gone back to work or exhausted their benefits.