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Six Must-Knows About Maternity Leave

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Written by Michelle Thompson for BabyPost.com

Everybody loves taking time off work -- especially when it involves spending a lengthy sabbatical with that new bundle of joy, but as many new parents know (or soon realize) raising a newborn is no vacation. There is one thing that can make this time a little less stressful: maternity leave.

Most employed new parents are entitled by law to take time off work following childbirth. Here's a breakdown of what to expect from these benefits.

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How it works
It's every woman's worst fear: Being replaced by a 22-year-old intern while we're taking time off to raise a newborn child. Thanks to the employment laws, that can't happen. Employers are obliged to give new parents time off with assurances they can return to their regular (or equal) positions once their parental leave is up. This allows caregivers to put their careers on hold for up to a year, while continuing to take in some income through the federal government.

Who's eligible?
Birth or surrogate mothers are entitled to take 15 weeks of maternity leave benefits following the birth of their child (or children). Biological and adoptive parents can then tap into the 35 weeks of available parental leave. For Quebec moms, you're eligible to receive 18 weeks of mat leave, plus 32 weeks of parental leave. Dads in Quebec can receive up to five weeks of paternal leave, as well as share in the parental leave with their partner.

Related: Top 10 Pregnancy Symptoms

Applying for maternity leave
In order to qualify you must have worked 600 hours over the past 52 weeks, or since your last EI claim. An applicant's weekly earnings must also have decreased by more than 40 per cent. Good news for self-employed parents who were traditionally blocked from collecting mat leave: you can now apply, but only if you've paid into EI benefits for the 12 months preceding your child's birth.

Signing up
Parents don't have to wait until their baby arrives to sign up for EI maternity benefits. The federally-funded program allows new moms or dads to apply well in advance of the anticipated arrival. They can start receiving benefits up to eight weeks before the due date, or on the week of the due date.

Before going on maternity leave, parents must give their employer four week's written notice. Service Canada processes maternity leave applications, but requires a few documents to do so. Parents-to-be should bring a record of employment (ROE) for the past 52 weeks to a Service Canada location, or ask their employer to do so on their behalf.

Getting paid
Don't expect to strike it rich while away from work. Those on maternity leave receive up to 55 per cent of their average earnings (in Quebec up to 70 per cent), though the federal government in 2012 capped the maximum annual salary at $45,900. That means the most someone can earn on mat leave is about $485 a week. However, if they continue receiving parental benefits after maternity leave ends, they could earn $25,245 a year.

If that's not enough cash for one's liking, you can continue to work part-time, but can only earn $50 a week, or 25 per cent of the weekly benefits, without getting dinged. Those who work more than that will have their maternity leave benefits shaved off dollar-for-dollar.

Returning to work
If a new mom has become quite fond of her new little one -- and less fond of the prospect of returning to work -- she isn't obliged to return. Whether or not to head back into the office is entirely a personal choice, but do check with your company's HR policies -- if you've been topped by your employer while on leave you may be required to pay back the money if you don't return to your old job.

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