Learning About Leaves

Learning About Leaves - Spring 2023

KNOWLEDGE SHARER Surrey Memorial Hospital nurse Laura Goossens was inspired to help expectant co-workers after the difficulty she faced accessing information on maternity and parental leaves when pregnant with her first child.

A new member-developed resource helps demystify the process of taking maternity and parental leave

Having a baby. It’s one of the most exciting and life-changing experiences a person can have. It’s also a time filled with joy, love and plans for the future.

Seven years ago, Surrey Memorial Hospital nurse Laura Goossens was expecting her first child. She’s never forgotten the difficulty she faced when trying to access information and resources on maternity and parental leaves.

“I was pregnant and trying to figure out the moving parts I had to navigate to go on maternity leave, and I realized there was nothing out there that provided all the steps in one place,” she recalls.

“I went through a process of elimination by emailing and calling different government agencies for answers to figure out a general rubric of how to negotiate this process.”

The frustration led Goossens to document her findings and later share them with other pregnant colleagues, who used the information to help plan their own maternity leaves.

Maternity and parental leaves are a bargained-for right, and the earned time away from work should be a period for parents to bond with their new baby and adjust to the responsibilities of parenthood without financial hardship or concern for job security.

“Nurses considering starting a family, were not being provided with relevant information.”

Melissa Vannerus

Most Canadian workers are eligible to receive employment insurance (EI) parental benefits before and after a child is born. EI maternity and parental leaves ensure new parents receive financial support during their time away from work.

“I wanted to try to get as much done as I could before the birth of my son, because with a brand-new baby you don’t have a lot of spare time,” Goossens says. “Timing is important too. If you’re late and a month behind in your application, you’re not making any money for that time, which adds to the family’s financial stress.”

BCNU members covered by the Nurses’ Bargaining Association (NBA) collective agreement also have a range of entitlements under Article 38 (Maternity and Parental Leave) of the provincial contract. However, employer’s different policies and benefits available under the contract also means it can be confusing for parents to understand how to obtain benefits, when to apply to ensure there is no lapse in coverage, and how to maximize their effectiveness.

Melissa Vannerus is a Royal Columbian Hospital steward and the BCNU Simon Fraser region occupational health and safety rep. She’s also the provincial chair of BCNU’s Young Nurses’ Network (YNN), and is dedicated to educating nurses about their rights early on in their careers.

Vannerus says she is all too aware of members’ ongoing confusion around leaves, and recognizes that young nurses and new grads, as a group, are especially in need of accurate and accessible information.

“The YNN has been pushing for BCNU to provide education specifically for young nurses, and to give them the tools they need to appreciate the collective agreement and understand their rights – and that includes information on leaves,” she reports.

“It just boggled my mind that an organization that’s predominantly women, and with a large network of nurses thirty-five and younger who may be considering starting a family, were not being directly provided relevant information,” says Vannerus when asked about her motivation to advocate for members.

Last spring, she approached BCNU provincial treasurer Sharon Sponton about creating a financial health workshop, and together they formalized an agenda for the four-hour event. A labour relations staff member came with a presentation on leaves based on Goossens’s original document. Vannerus reports that over 300 nurses attended the April 2022 session, where they discussed issues of personal health and resiliency, received financial advice and talked about maternity and parental leaves.

The tremendous interest in the workshop’s section on parental leaves made it clear to Vannerus that many young nurses felt confused and unsure about navigating the leave process. She then worked with BCNU staff to develop a fulsome resource for nurses, specifically focused on parental and maternity leaves.

This new infographic (see sidebar) organizes the process of applying for and taking maternity and parental leaves into four time-sensitive sections, and helps readers understand when best to take specific steps to ensure they are receiving maximum benefits and services to support their growing family. This includes information on when to inform management about a new pregnancy, requesting their record of employment, registering for EI and when and how to connect with a worksite steward about leaves of absence.

The infographic is now one of many online resources available in BCNU’s steward resource toolkit.

“As someone who’s been such an activist for the rights of young nurses, there’s still so much that needs to be done regarding education and getting new nurses to understand their rights,” Vannerus says.

“I was lucky enough to have experienced stewards on my unit who brought me to regional meetings. But there are units without stewards and others where members are being mentored by new grads who also don’t understand their rights,” she explains. “That’s why the YNN is committed to networking and socializing, and to teaching new grads that they do, in fact, have bargained-for rights and how to exercise these rights when management interprets the contract differently than intended.”

Vannerus is also editor of the BCNU Simon Fraser region newsletter, and has promoted the new parental leave infographic in the February edition, which she says will get into the hands of nurses throughout her region during the next round of mini-regional events.

She is grateful for the work that helped inform the infographic’s design, and the joint effort of BCNU’s leadership and steward teams to ensure this tool was developed.

“It’s been a great achievement,” she says. “Now the membership at large can have more control over their maternity and parental leaves.”

Goossens agrees. “Even now, I have nurses approach me and say they are pregnant and don’t know what to do,” she reports. “And I’m proud to tell them there is something that has just come out from our union!” •

UPDATE (Spring 2023)

UPDATED: May 02, 2023


BCNU stewards led the creation of a new infographic providing guidelines to help explain the rules surrounding maternity and parental leave. Infographics convey large amounts of dense information in a compact and concise format, allowing readers to quickly grasp the information presented.

Download it here.

If you are NOT receiving updates, news, and events emailed to you, log in to the BCNU Member Portal and update your information.