The Yukon government sign in front of the main administraton building on Second Avenue. The Yukon government is asking the public whether it should change territorial rules around leaves of absence to mirror federal legislation. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Yukon government considers changing the leave of absence laws

A public feedback period on the proposed changes is open until Oct. 6

The Yukon government is asking the public whether it should change territorial rules around leaves of absence to mirror federal legislation.

The crux of the matter centres on using established job protections over a longer period of time.

Currently, Yukoners on standard parental leave get 37 weeks off and are paid 55 per cent of their average weekly earnings. Under the proposed change time off would be bumped to 62 weeks, inline with the federal government, but Yukoners would have their benefits stretched out over that time. That means less benefits per week.

“What they do is spread the same amount of benefits over an 18 month period, if they wanted to have some more flexibility, with respect to taking the time to take care of the child,” said Shane Hickey, director of employment standards.

“What adjustments to employment standards would do would be providing job protection for the full period, so that would be the main implication for employees.”

The extended parental leave “must be continuous with maternity leave,” according to a table of current and proposed federal, territorial legislation shared with the News. The rate would be pegged at 33 per cent of average weekly insurable income, a drop of 22 per cent, when compared to current territorial legislation.

Colette Acheson, executive director at the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement, that some from the business community have concerns, in terms of the price tag that could hang off such a change.

“(They) express concern about how much these changes may cost employers directly and or indirectly in areas such as benefit top ups, a rise in corporate taxes or lower productivity,” she said.

“Additionally, given the labour shortages that represent a significant and ongoing reality for many Yukon businesses, the requirement to provide even longer coverage for existing staff who are taking an extended leave for maternity or compassionate care benefits may be difficult for those businesses already struggling to recruit and train sufficient staff under the existing legislative framework.”

The changes, which could bolster job protections, Hickey said, are manifold.

It would cover parental leave (which includes sharing among parents — same sex couples, adoptive parents, for example), along with caring for the injured, critically or gravely ill. Family of a child who is injured or critically ill would fall under the umbrella, too.

It appears that all options, with the exception of “parental sharing leave,” have been implemented at the federal level.

Sharing among parents, in this respect, is proposed for June 2019 federally. What it would spur, the table says, is equal responsibility among caregivers.

For the standard parental leave option, it says, five weeks of additional unpaid leave would be offered for those wanting share responsibilities. Contingent on this is whether the second parent agrees to take on the same amount of leave.

There’s also an extended parental leave selection for this category. Instead of five weeks shared among parents, this option would entail eight weeks.

“If (legislation) was changed, it would reflect the same leave periods in the territory that are available for EI, federally,” Hickey said.

“Technically, Yukoners would have access to the benefits if they wanted to use, for example, the extended parental leave, but they don’t have the job protection for the extended period.”

Currently if a Yukoner wants the leaves of absence provided at the federal level, there must be an agreement struck between an employee and employer, Hickey said. With a territorial amendment, however, this step would be no longer necessary.

“Basically, by amending the act, it provides more guarantees to job protection, if (residents) want to take the longer periods of leave,” he said.

In an attempt to gauge the stance that Yukoners have on the matter, a 30-day feedback period has been initiated, wrapping up on Oct. 6.

“We wanted to hear from individuals who have potentially gone through this, see if it could be beneficial, or if they business community has concerns,” Hickey said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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