Family files human rights complaint challenging EI maternity and parental benefits clawback

Vancouver [May 16, 2016] The Community Legal Assistance Society has filed a human rights complaint on behalf of a BC woman who had her Employment Insurance (EI) maternity and parental benefits taken away because her partner receives disability assistance. The complaint alleges that the BC government is engaging in sex discrimination contrary to human rights law by depriving women of these benefits.

Jess Alford worked a retail job at a book store. While she was working she paid premiums into EI like any other worker and accumulated enough employment hours to make an EI claim. When she took leave from work to have her child she collected the EI maternity and parental benefits she was entitled to. But because Jess's partner receives disability assistance, the BC government deducted the entire amount she received in EI benefits dollar-for-dollar.

"My family's income went down at a time when we needed it the most — all because I had to take time off work to have my child. I was forced into a position of choosing to take leave and impoverish my family or return to work immediately following the birth of my child when I wasn't physically ready," said Jess Alford.

The BC government claws back EI maternity and parental benefits from approximately 150 families in BC every year. Only women who give birth can receive EI maternity benefits and last year 92% of people who claimed EI parental leave in BC were women. This government policy puts families with a female wage-earner in a fundamentally worse financial position than families with a male wage-earner.

"Children in families with female wage-earners are already more likely to live in poverty than children in families with male wage-earners," said Adrienne Montani of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. "The BC government is contributing to women and children's poverty when they claw back women's EI benefits."

"The purpose of EI maternity and parental benefits is to share the financial cost of child birth and early child care among everyone in our society, rather than heaping that cost on women alone," said Laura Johnston, lawyer for the complainants. "This clawback defeats that purpose — it forces low-income working women further into poverty when they have children and that's sex discrimination."

Media Contact:
Laura Johnston, Lawyer, Community Legal Assistance Society, 604-673-3105, ljohnston[@]clasbc.net