THE EMPLOYERS' EDGE
Federal Court of Appeal Clarifies Employment Insurance Act: No Double Recovery for Having Twins
On June 27, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada refused to grant leave to appeal a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal which held that a couple cannot recover double the parental benefits provided by the Employment Insurance Act if the couple has twins.
Christian Martin applied for parental benefits under the Employment Insurance Act, claiming a full 35 weeks of benefits. He asked that his application be considered separately from that of his wife, Paula Critchley, whose application for full benefits after the birth of their twins had already been approved by the Employment Insurance Commission. Martin’s position was that parents of twins ought to be additionally compensated by the Act for particular burdens not faced by parents of single birth children. The Commission denied his application, by reason that Critchley’s application had already been approved, and the legislation treats multiple births and adoptions the same as single births and adoptions.
Martin appealed that decision to the Employment Insurance Board of Referees. Surprisingly, the Board disagreed with the Commission and actually concluded that Martin and his wife were each entitled to 35 weeks of benefits under the Act. Sub-Section 12(4)(b) of the Act reads in part: “the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid … (b) for the care of one or more new-born or adopted children as a result of a single pregnancy or placement is 35.” The Board interpreted that subsection as not limiting claims to one child per pregnancy, and held that Martin could claim 35 weeks of parental benefits for one child, and his spouse could claim 35 weeks for the other child.
That finding prompted the Employment Insurance Commission to appeal to a Federal Court Judge acting as Umpire under the Employment Insurance Act. The Judge ruled that the Board had erred in its interpretation of s.12(4) of the Act, and stated that the law clearly established 35 weeks as the maximum number of weeks of parental benefits that can be claimed, regardless of how many children are born of a single pregnancy. The Judge decided that the language in the Act is clear, and cannot be changed by arguments pertaining to the burdens that may be faced by parents of twins. The Judge also rejected Martin’s position that the Act breached his right to equality under the Charter, stating that the fact that the law does not provide the parents of twins with double benefits falls short of constituting discrimination.
Martin appealed the Umpire’s decision to the Federal Court of Appeal, which also rejected his positions. That Court ruled that Martin’s interpretation of the Act “flies in the face of Parliament’s clear intention in enacting the provisions at issue,” and decided that the Act clearly restricts the period of parental benefits for the care of one or more children born from a single pregnancy to 35 weeks. The law was explained in these words:
 I understand these provisions to mean the following. First, a claimant may receive, during a benefit period, benefits for a maximum period of 35 weeks for the care of one or more newborn children (paragraph 12(3)(b)). Benefit periods are established for an individual claimant and are thus claimant specific. Consequently, during that benefit period, paragraph 12(3)(b) limits to one period of 35 weeks the benefits that a mother or father, as individual and separate claimants, can receive for the care of children. This limit, however, is subject to a further limit found in paragraph 12(4)(b). Were it not for this limit, the applicant and his spouse would each be entitled to 35 weeks of parental benefits to care for their twins.
 Paragraph 12(4)(b) restricts or limits the period in which parental benefits may be paid for the care of one or more newborn children. That restriction is a maximum of 35 weeks for the care of all children born of a single pregnancy.
The Court of Appeal further confirmed that the Umpire’s ruling was consistent with the purpose and intent of parental benefits under the Act, which is to compensate parents for the interruption of earnings which occurs when they cease to work or reduce their work to care for a child or children. It is not driven by the needs of the parents or the number of children born of a single pregnancy. Therefore, while the parents were free to apportion the 35 weeks of benefits between themselves in whatever manner they chose, they were certainly not eligible for a combined 70 weeks of benefits under the Act.
On the same reasoning, the Federal Court of Appeal agreed that the Act does not violate the Charter rights of parents of twins, since the law is not intended to address the particular burdens or difficulties faced by parents resulting from the birth or adoption of children, but instead is intended to compensate parents for the interruption to their earnings which may occur when they take time off to care for their children.
After this decision was rendered, a New Democratic Party Member of Parliament tabled a private member’s Bill proposing to amend the Act to allow for a total of 70 weeks of parental benefits of multiple birth or adoptive children. The Bill was defeated in the House of Commons in March of 2013 by a vote of 147-136.
It is important for employers to note that the Employment Insurance Act is a piece of legislation intended to compensate employees when their ability to work is interrupted by certain factors, such as the birth of their children. The Act is federal law that may not perfectly sync with provincial employment legislation. For example, some confusion may be caused for an employer or employee considering that leave entitlements under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 do not necessarily match benefit entitlements under the Employment Insurance Act. If you require clarification or advice pertaining to the entitlements of your employees, the lawyers at CCPartners are well-versed in the law and experienced in navigating the multiple interacting statutes and regulations which may play a role in determining your obligations and your employees’ entitlements.
Please Note: This blog has been prepared as an informational service for our clients and other interested parties. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, a complete statement of the law or opinion on any subject. Although we endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the content, no one should act upon the information provided without a thorough examination of the law after the facts of a specific situation are fully considered.