Dual parental leaves for parents of twins struck down

Father of twins awarded parental leave for one of his twins in 2009; EI umpire overturns ruling after government employer appealed
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 06/21/2011

An employment insurance (EI) umpire has overturned a board of referees decision granting parental leave benefits to both parents of twin girls born in 2009.

On April 21, 2009, federal government employees Paula Critchley and Christian Martin became parents to twin girls. Critchley applied for and was approved for 15 weeks of maternity leave benefits and 35 weeks of parental leave benefits for one daughter. Martin applied for 35 weeks of parental leave benefits for his other daughter but was rejected because EI law says 35 weeks can only be provided for a single pregnancy or adoption, not each birth. The time could be split among the parents, but only a total of 35 weeks was allowed.

Martin appealed to the EI board of referees for his parental benefits, claiming that caring for two babies was difficult and “overwhelming” without both parents. He also said it was unfair and discriminatory to only allow one set of benefits for two babies just because they were born together.

The board approved Martin’s claim for his own set of 35 weeks, allowing him to stay home to help care for his two daughters. It said both parents suffered from “onerous household obligations” related to the birth and agreed each parent could make a separate claim for one of the babies.

However, the federal government appealed and, in a decision made public last week, an EI umpire overturned the board’s decision, stipulating the EI parental leave rules applied to each pregnancy, not each birth. The umpire also found the rules were not discriminatory against parents of multiple births.

“It is entirely legitimate for the government to make choices in the allocation of benefits and it should be permitted a degree of latitude in so doing,” said the umpire, Federal Court judge Russel Zinn. “The fact that caring for twins may involve more work than caring for a single newborn does not prove historical disadvantage that perpetuates prejudice and stereotyping.”

Because the decision was under appeal, Martin didn’t receive the benefits in the first place and took time off at his own expense to help his wife care for the twins. He indicated he plans to appeal to the Federal Court, despite the fact his daughters are now two years old.

“We’re disappointed with the decision,” Martin’s lawyer, Stephen Moreau, told the Ottawa Citizen. “We have some confidence of success … due to the fact that we do think the EI Act, when read correctly, leads to a different conclusion.”

A couple in Halifax who had twins in January are also fighting the federal government for parental leave for each parent.

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