Financials of Parental Leave as a Graduate Student

Not only is there a lot to learn about making a baby as a same-sex couple, but there is a lot to learn about having a baby as a grad student. Here in Ontario, Canada, the treatment of pregnant and parenting grad students is abysmal in many universities. They are cut off from university resources with absolutely no continuation of their stipend and no Employment Insurance. Not to mention the stigma…

I spent a month emailing back and forth with my union reps, and now I feel that I have a fair (but surely not complete) understanding of what I am entitled to as a grad student taking maternity leave – and it’s peanuts if anything. I hope my research and clarification of findings can be enlightening to any grad students in Ontario who are hoping to take a parental leave, but [disclaimer], do also start the conversation with your own union rep for info accurate to your institution.

*Warning: this is a long and boring post for anyone not looking for this information.

I asked my union rep what my collective agreement’s Paid Parental/Pregnancy Leave rights looked like. This is what my union rep had to say about it:

“this is one of the most difficult parts of the collective agreement”.

That’s reassuring…

One is only eligible for paid leave if they are on an active work assignment. This refers to a teaching assistantship. However, the eligibility to the paid leave is very restrictive. An overview of how teaching assistantships work: The semesters are Fall (Sept-Dec), Winter (Jan-Apr), and Summer (May-Aug). Teaching assistant positions are assigned semester-by-semester, and there are breaks of about 2 weeks in between each semester (in which you are not “actively” employed). Most students are not lucky enough to be a teaching assistant in the summer semester because there are fewer courses to teach. In order to qualify for a paid leave from a teaching assistant work assignment, you need to be employed for at least 13 consecutive weeks (or 2 teaching assistantships) over the past 3 semesters. Whether or not 2 consecutive teaching assistantships count as 13 consecutive weeks (given the 2 week break between semesters) seems to be a grey area.

If you start your leave any time outside of that “active work assignment”, you get nothing. You can try, however, to get your doctor to recommend that the leave starts before the baby is born, which gives you some more control – however, you wouldn’t want to waste time sitting around on leave if it’s not needed, either. My union rep actually said,

“Wise students and those living in the world of the collective agreement would indeed plan the birth date to coincide with the beginning of their work assignment.”

So what do you get if you have teaching assistantships and are lucky enough to be able to time things right? You get two weeks of pay, and then 45% of your wages for the rest of the semester (another reason to time the start of the leave at the beginning of the semester, so you have paid leave for longer). You can technically also receive benefits from EI (Employment Insurance) above the wages paid to you through the university; however, grad students aren’t often eligible for EI. Here’s why:

For accessing EI you’ll need 600 hours of work for the past year from the date when you plan to go on leave. Each “work assignment”/teaching assistantship is 140 hours. Even if you were one of the lucky few to get a teaching assistantship each and every semester, you wouldn’t have enough hours. Also, a large proportion of your pay as a teaching assistant technically comes from grant money, for which you do not pay into EI. So that 140 hours of eligible work hours is actually reduced even more (not sure by how much, but it doesn’t really matter, now does it). Never fear, though – if you are not eligible to receive EI, the university pays you 55% of your wages instead of 45%.

Here is an example of the most ideal possible paid parental leave situation at my university. One cannot plan to this level of detail of course – we are slaves to our cycles and can do nothing to control the 15-20% chance of successful fertilization each cycle.

December 30th, 2015: Conception
September 6th, 2016: Start of active work assignment
September 7th, 2016: Give two weeks notice to department chair
Week 1: $450
Week 2: $450
Sept 21st, 2016: Due date, baby is born
Week 3: $450
Week 4: $450
Oct 5th, 2016: full pay ceases
Week 5 through 12: $245/week
Dec 17th, 2016: work assignment ends, all pay ceases

In reality, it will probably look more like this [conception date arbitrary]:

Sept 2015: Conception
June 2016: Due date, baby is born
Summer semester: no work assignment, no money, no eligibility for EI.

Depressing… but it still may be the best time in my “career” to have a baby (not dependent on wife’s career which is a different story). If I am capable of parenting while completing my PhD with little to no use of daycare, main benefits include:

  • Not paying for regular daycare (at least not until I have a job that I have to physically be at every day)
  • Not having a fresh baby in a seriously strenuous and open-ended period of job hunting or tenure/promotion track

This lengthy post only covers the details of Paid Parental Leave as a grad student. Academic leave (i.e., putting my studies on hold) is a different thing altogether, and as this post is long enough as it is, I will save that discussion for another time.

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