Employers face headaches over parental leave changes

January 10, 2017 - 11:00am

KAMLOOPS — There are rumours the Liberal government is going to give serious consideration to implementing its campaign promise to extend parental leave from 12 to 18 months when children are born. It is a potential nightmare for employers trying to deal with replacing workers during those times. Coupled with extending leave is the possibility that parents could be allowed the opportunity to work periodically during that time. The whole scenario is problematic for a number of reasons.

I can understand the need to ensure that we are somewhat flexible with parents in these changing times. Years ago, these would not have been issues. If you couldn’t handle it, you quit. We look at things differently today, and so we should. But we have to look at the issue from both sides. And the Liberal government is not.

Let us look at a couple of facts. Families are having children later in life. That means highly trained employees are away from their job for a considerable period when their value to their employer is most critical. It is more and more difficult to replace those workers for a maternity or a paternity leave. And now we want to force an employer to try and do it for an even longer period?

And let’s assume we find someone. Then we’re going to allow someone on leave to come back when and if they want to work for a few days, a few weeks, at some time of their own choosing? The government hasn’t put any guidelines in place for these changes, but you can imagine the problems. The cost to employers would be huge. They won’t dump the temporary fill-in during the time a worker decides to come back for a short period, so their costs skyrocket.

Now it’s quite possible that few people will take advantage of an extended leave. Benefits don’t match a normal wage, so it’s a hardship to be away too long. But many daycares don’t want kids under 18 months of age, so some parents may want to extend their leaves as long as possible. In either event, it’s a problem that needs to be looked at carefully before changes are made.

And it’s not only small businesses that are seriously affected by these potential shifts in parental leave. Larger corporations relying on well-trained individuals are just as hard pressed to find adequate replacements. How fair is fair? Where is the line between doing the right thing by employees and at the same time allowing the employer some measure of confidence in his ability to operate while key employees are away?

Let’s hope the government doesn’t rush into this move without adequate consultation. It’s possibly a campaign promise that shouldn’t have been made in the first place without adequate thought. Sadly, when parties try to get elected, they often promise things that are totally impractical, and this might well be one of them.

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