Mom can’t get full EI benefits

If an employee voluntarily quits but qualifies for employment insurance, should she get full maternity and parental benefits if she becomes pregnant during the insurable period? The legislation says no, but Astrid Sollbach has told the Federal Court of Appeal that the law is unconstitutional.

Sollbach relies on section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality under the law. She says that, although she voluntarily quit to follow her husband to Calgary and became pregnant later, she still should get full maternity and parental benefits.

At first Sollbach claimed her 27 weeks of regular unemployment insurance benefits (as it was then called). After 18 weeks, she had the government convert the benefits to maternity benefits, which she received for 12 weeks.

The Commission refused her request for a total of 52 weeks of benefits, including 15 weeks of maternity and ten weeks of parental benefits, and the appeal court has affirmed that refusal.

The applicable law is not discriminatory, the court recently ruled. A reasonable person would not conclude that it has demeaned Sollbach’s dignity, and would consider that the commission had paid her three weeks more benefits than she was entitled to under ordinary benefit allowances.

Entitlement to ordinary unemployment benefits is not a personal characteristic, the court says. Although the law gives higher rights to employed pregnant women, it treats Sollbach the same as it treats those on parental leave and the disabled.

For more information:

Sollbach v. Canada, Federal Court of Appeal file A-197-98, Dec. 17/99.

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