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Saskatoon mom warns families about irreversible parental leave error

Lisa Cameron doesn’t want to leave her new baby to go back to work, but worries she’ll have to.

The Saskatoon mom said she accidentally applied for the wrong type of parental leave benefits, and is receiving smaller payments than expected — about $1,200 a month. 

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Cameron said the benefits aren’t enough to supplement her fiance’s income, so she’ll have to go back to her nursing job in the weeks ahead.

“I’ve cried a lot about it,” Cameron told Global News. “I want to be there to see her grow up.”

She said she wants a year off, so she applied for a 52-week “extended” leave instead of a 37-week “standard” leave. The problem: Cameron said she didn’t realize the year-long leave she applied for was on top of 15 weeks of regular maternity leave.

The additional time off makes for smaller payments, which Cameron is stuck with.

She said she called Service Canada to get clarification on the difference between extended and standard leave, but gave up when she was met with a three-hour wait time.

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“I thought, ‘Worst case, I made a mistake [and] they’ll let me know I made a mistake,” she said.

The federal government’s website and online application form for parental leave say once parents start receiving benefits, they cannot change options. Service Canada is reviewing the website and application to ensure the information is easy to find and understand,  spokesperson Marie-Eve Sigouin-Campeau said.

Cameron said she worries other parents will fill out the form incorrectly.

“I’m willing to say that I made a mistake. We’re all human,” Cameron said.

“I just want [expecting parents] to know that you can make a minor mistake and this is what happens.”

The inability to change leave types is enshrined in Canadian legislation, Service Canada said.

“[It] provides employers with a level of certainty on their employee’s length of leave, date of return to work, and top-up amount,” Sigouin-Campeau said in an email.

Cameron said the federal government should be more lenient.

“I just would hate to see other women go through, financially, what we’re going through right now,” she said.

‘Understand how EI works for you’

The founder of a company that works with expectant, new and working moms advises parents to begin financial planning as soon as they know they’re pregnant.

“Service Canada may not always provide you the complete picture of how the benefits fit with your own financial plan,” said Kinia Romanowska, Pros&Babes CEO.

“We think that somebody’s going to hold our hand and guide us through the process of financial planning, of having a great maternity leave, of making sure our finances are going to be okay, but the reality is that’s not the case.”

People can consult with financial advisers and resource groups for expectant parents, she said.

“You really have to take the initiative to understand how EI will work for you,” said Romanowska, a mother of two.

Cameron said she submitted a request for reconsideration of her employment insurance application.

“We are hoping by some miracle that maybe it’ll be turned around,” she said.

Click to play video: Pregnant Canadians worry they won’t get parental leave benefits because work hours affected by COVID-19

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