Maternity and Paternity Leave is an aspect of employment that is important to consider, and my Orthopaedic Surgery PA colleague Ohood writes about parental leave from a Physician Assistant Perspective.
Ohood Elzibak obtained her undergraduate degree in the Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) program at McMaster University. In 2010, she completed her Physician Assistant (PA) training through McMaster’s inaugural PA class. She has practiced in the field of Orthopaedic Surgery since 2010, specializing in sports orthopaedics and peri-arthroscopic care. Ohood completed her Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and currently holds an appointment at McMaster University as an Assistant Clinical Professor (adjunct). She is involved in teaching musculoskeletal skills as well as preceptorship in Orthopaedic Surgery. In 2016, Ohood was awarded the national Physician Assistant Educator of the Year Award for her contribution to the enhancement of PA education in Canada.
CONNECT WITH OHOOD:
Congratulations! You’re Expecting!
Or maybe you’ve got babies on your mind and are starting to plan ahead. Either way, you’ve come to the right place for all you need to know about planning and preparing for parental leave from the moment you find out you’re expecting to your first day back on the job!
Announcing the news
The first decision you will have to make is when to announce the exciting news to your employer/ co-workers. Will you let everyone know as soon as you see a little heartbeat on the ultrasound? Will you wait until the popular 12-week safety zone passes? Or will you let your baby bump do the talking? According to the Canada Labour Code, you must provide your employer with a one-month written notice with your intended length of leave. However, it is a good idea to let your employer know earlier than that to allow for the hiring/ training of a replacement or for making alternative plans to manage the workflow while you’re away.
If you work in a private office and are directly employed by your supervising physician, you’ll want to let him/her know before word about your pregnancy makes it to your co-workers, the office next door, your entire patient roster and the FedEx delivery guy. This will keep things a lot less awkward and will help you establish a solid communication line with your employer, which will make it easier to discuss and finalize plans around your leave.
If you work for a hospital or large organization, your communication will likely take place directly through HR. Have a read through the institution’s policies on parental leave and familiarize yourself with your entitlements. You may be required to complete a form within a specific timeframe to be eligible for supplemental benefits. Start inquiring early, even if you don’t plan to announce the pregnancy right away. You can search online, stop by and pick up an information package or ask to have information emailed to you.
Deciding how much time to take off
According to Service Canada, as of Dec 3, 2017, expectant mothers can start to receive Maternity Employment Insurance (EI) benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date. You may decide to stop working early if you are having an especially difficult pregnancy, the nature of your work is demanding or you’d like some extra time to prepare for the arrival of your baby. Alternatively, you may decide to work as long into the pregnancy as possible to give you more time at home once the baby arrives.
With regards to parental leave, in total, you can take up to 12 months off at the current benefit rate (55% of your insurable earnings) or up to 18 months off at a reduced rate (33% of your insurable earnings). You can share parental leave with your partner so you each have a chance to spend time caring for and bonding with your baby at home.
When deciding how much time to take off, you will need to sit down with a budgeting tool (try this) and crunch some numbers. You’ll also need to consider your lifestyle preferences, how much value you place on time spent at home with your little one and how much you are willing to sacrifice in terms of luxuries and extras if you are faced with a reduced income. It’s not an easy decision, so give yourself some time to weigh out the pros and cons and come up with a reasonable plan.
All you need to know about financial planning
Financial planning for your parental leave started at the time of your initial contract negotiations, so if you are a new graduate or a PA who is about to sign an employment contract, ask the difficult questions now.
Ask about additional benefits, typically referred to as supplemental plans or “top-ups”, which you may be eligible to receive along with your EI benefits up to 100% of your gross salary. You can read all about top-ups here.
- Hospitals and large organizations typically have supplemental plans in place; if you are not offered these benefits directly make sure you ask about them and have them added to your contract.
- Private physicians’ offices do not typically have such plans in place, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. The plans are very easy to implement and do not have to be registered as long as there is an adequate paper trail of the funds. The not-so-easy part: convincing your employer to top you up to 100% when he/she may also have to pay the salary of a temporary PA while you’re away. You may have more luck asking for a partial top-up, perhaps up to 75% of your salary.
Another source of income while you’re on parental leave is the Canada Child Benefit. You can use this calculator to help you figure out how much you’ll be entitled to. Even if you feel that you’re a high-earner, you should still apply, as you may be eligible for some funds. For example, if a family consisted of two working PAs (who earn $85000 each/ year) and a baby, the Canada Child Benefit amount would be about $50 per month, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but would certainly help with recurring expenses like diapers and wipes.
A final word about benefits: you are still eligible for your regular health/dental benefits throughout your parental leave. This does not affect your EI benefits and you should remind your employer to continue to pay the premiums for your health plan so you don’t lose access to your coverage.
Hiring a replacement
Now that you’ve sorted out the details around your leave, it’s time to help your employer figure out what he/she will do without you.
In a private office, you will likely have the opportunity to play a large role in helping recruit and train a replacement. Don’t leave your employer hanging; offer to help with the hiring process and assist your employer in choosing a suitable candidate. Your employer may not know where to look for another qualified PA; direct them to the CAPA job boards or offer to make a job posting in PA-specific groups online. Help them write up a job description based on your typical duties. Allow for adequate time to find and train a candidate- somewhere around 3 months before you take off is reasonable for starting the search. The hardest part is training the new candidate; but as a seasoned PA who is familiar with the work environment, you are in the best position to guide the new PA hire. Your supervisor will certainly appreciate your role in the smooth transition.
If you work for a larger institution, the hiring process may be directly handled by HR and you may not have the opportunity to be as involved with recruitment. You should still reach out to the new hire and offer to share resources to help with the transition. This will reflect very well on you as a team player, a supportive colleague and a PA advocate.
Requesting your Record of Employment (ROE)
In order to receive EI benefits, you must submit your Record of Employment (ROE) to Service Canada. This can be submitted online by your employer or given to you in paper format. Although an ROE is not issued until you have stopped working, you should request this from your employer a few weeks before the start of your leave. Some employers don’t have experience with issuing the ROE and will need to consult their payroll/ accounts person to create one. Some have not set up their online accounts for direct submission of the ROE and will need to issue a paper form. And sometimes, even large institutions with experienced HR departments have mix-ups that may cause a delay in the processing of your ROE. Let them know early on that you will be needing the ROE on your last day and make sure to follow up on the request until it is fulfilled. There is already a waiting period before EI benefits are paid out so don’t stretch this out any longer by not having the right paperwork.
The last few days on the job
When you are off work for a year navigating through the exciting world of parenthood, it is very easy to forget passwords, addresses to access portals and other technical details related to the job. Make a record of these now (but note that some passwords, eg. EMR, should not be written down to protect patient privacy). Create a list somewhere safe (best if you know how to encrypt the sensitive information) so you can access it when you return; consider using a password manager.
Set your work email responder to away mode- you can simply say that you will be on a leave of absence until a specified date and provide the contact info for your replacement.
Organize your files (whether paper or e-files) and pack up your workstation to make room for the new hire.
And finally, on your last day, offer blank stares (or sharp glares if you prefer) at anyone who tells you how lucky you are to be on vacation for a whole year!
One more thing, as soon as you get home, start your EI application.
During your leave
Congratulations! Your little one has arrived! Enjoy this time of excitement, fatigue, joy, turbulence and no work emails! Most employers and colleagues know better than to bother a new mother or father about work-related matters, but occasionally, an email may slip through and either cause you extreme nostalgia and longing for the professional life you once had, or throw you into a fit of rage as to why someone would have the audacity to contact you during your magical time with your baby. Not to worry; the ball is in your court. You can decide how much of a connection you’d like to have to your professional life during your time off. However, it is a good idea to maintain positive ties with your workplace and co-workers.
Although your parenting duties will take up most, if not all, of your time, you can still choose to participate in selected workplace events, perhaps attend a conference, join PA advocacy campaigns online, work on accumulating CME hours, contribute to blog writing or find another meaningful way to maintain a professional life despite your absence from work.
One more thing, if you will be requiring child care upon returning to work, you will want to look into this early on as many centers have wait lists. A helpful tip is to do most of your touring of child care facilities before your baby arrives- you’ll thank yourself for this later!
Planning for your return to work
About 2-3 months before your anticipated return, decide whether you will be going back full-time, part-time or on a casual basis (or maybe not at all? In which case, you can stop reading now, but preferably after the next sentence).. Communicate with your employer to confirm your plans and the date of your return. Finalize your child care plans and start preparing yourself and your baby for the transition. Spend some time reviewing clinical information you may have forgotten; there is no shame in digging up some old textbooks to review anatomy or listening to podcasts to refresh your memory on typically-encountered clinical scenarios. You may learn something new in the process and return as a more polished version of yourself! Finally, sit down with your partner or a support person to brainstorm ideas that will save you time, make you more efficient and allow you to have the best of both your professional and family life!