In Canada mothers have had access to extended maternity leave since the early 1980s. This means a parent can take job protected leave if they have a child or adopt a child. Over the years parental leave has changed, to include fathers for example. The Federal government has also made it possible to extend maternity leave to 18 months, if it’s needed.  

But advocates say maternity leave after 40 years needs an overhaul and to be modernized. Mothers who take leave say they lack proper guidance from their employers before, during and after, their maternity leave, and this is having a negative impact on their career once they return.  

Community group Moms at Work, aims to make the experience of motherhood and career better.  In a new report, called, The Maternity Leave Experience Report, they show how Canadian women are lacking fundamental support from their employers. It says there needs to be a better return-to-work process to help working moms succeed.  

The report surveyed over 1,000 Canadian women who have taken one or more maternity leaves in the past decade. It found 95 per cent of respondents did not receive any formal support during their maternity leave transition.  

Allison Venditti is the  founder of Moms at Work.  She says after hearing many stories of women having negative experiences with their employer before, during and after maternity, she decided to do a deeper dive to understand where the gaps in support were.  Among the respondents she sees the problem can exists at the most granular level.  

“What we found was it was across every industry, every organization, every size and every leave. What I found was people’s experiences were really dictated by their relationship with their manager, or whoever happened to be sitting at the HR desk that day. That is totally unacceptable from an HR standpoint,” Venditti says.  

Here are some more of the reports key findings:  

  • 40% of women surveyed considered quitting during their return-to-work process 
  • 79% of women surveyed were not provided with options for a gradual return to work 
  • 33% of respondents reported they were discriminated against due to becoming, or being a mother in the workplace 
  • Only 10% of women surveyed were provided with information about their rights and accommodations for breastfeeding and pumping 

Venditti says the issue could be solved by modernizing the maternity leave process so it mimics other long term leaves.  

“Anybody who has been on workers compensation, or has been on short term or long term leave, it’s a very rigid and formalized process. You know what’s coming next, and you have a team to support you. So you get a case manager. In all those cases, you have someone setting up your meetings, none of that exists for what is a very long leave and really should be in place.” 

She says this process could work for small businesses to large corporations.  

The results of the survey speak to how former reporter Ashley Espinoza says she felt when she found out she was pregnant and told her boss.  

“I was having twins, it was high risk. There were a lot of appointments more so than a singleton pregnancy. And it was already starting to cause a little bit of friction,” Espinoza says.   

She felt she was getting micromanaged because of the increased time she needed to manage her higher risk pregnancy. She was often asked about the hours she was keeping, where she was working from (home or in the newsroom) and generally questions about the conditions of her work that has never been an issue before.  

From her perspective her pregnancy announcement and maternity leave lacked the support she needed from her employer. This only got worse, she says, when her doctor asked her to take early leave from work. 

“I ended up going off at 26 weeks on a medical leave, because my OB said things are not going well. At that point, my sugar was really high. And my stress was really high, a couple of weeks after everything leveled out again after I went off on my stress leave.” 

Her expectation before she got pregnant as her employer would not only support her through her high risk pregnancy but keep her in the loop about work when on maternity leave. She says none of that happened.  

In end, when she returned to work, she felts she has no choice but to resign from her job after her maternity leave was over.  She believes the way employers manage maternity leave has to change, so that women not only feel comfortable having children and taking time away from work but also returning to their job after their leave is over.  

Venditti says Espinoza’s story is a perfect example of why maternity leave needs an overhaul.  

This would include, giving workers tools to know where to request parental and maternity leave. Having clear messaging in place of how workers on leave can be kept up to date on work matters. As well, what the return to work will look like and how the employer can support you to make it successful by providing flexible hours, access to childcare and a reduced work week to start.  She says these simple changes would make maternity and parental leave easier and bring it up to date for today’s reality.  

Rubina is a freelance journalist and personal finance expert. She works for several media outlets including CBC Radio and Television, Global News Radio and Global News Toronto. She also has a long-running finance column with Homes Publishing Group. You can follow her on Twitter @alwayssavemoney