Like many Canadian working moms, when Brandi Diehl had a baby girl in March of 2011, she took advantage of federal maternity leave benefits and took a year off of her sales and marketing job. But unlike the vast majority of working moms, Ms. Diehl received her full salary for the entire year, thanks to a 100 per cent top-up by her employer, Calgary's Trican Well Service.
Ms. Diehl, 33, is aware that she is one of the lucky ones.
"I live in Airdrie, Alta. And I got introduced to other new moms [there.] A lot of them work in the oil and gas industry as well and they were in disbelief, asking me, 'What company do you work for again?'"
"It's unheard of, it really is."
Ms. Diehl joined Trican in 2007 as a senior sales and marketing assistant. At the time, she said, she wasn't thinking of starting a family. But once she met her husband, who also works in oil and gas at another Calgary company, she began to consider her options. And discovering that Trican offered up to 100 per cent top-up for 52 weeks helped the couple decide to have children, she says.
"It is an amazing thing to have the financial support. It's extremely empowering and a tribute to my family," she says.
Trican's 100 per cent maternity leave top-up, available to both new moms and adoptive parents, is the most generous in this year's Top 100 Employers list. Fathers can also receive top-up pay – to 100 per cent for 37 weeks. But for Trican, a pressure pumping supplier of specialized equipment for the oil and gas industry, the benefits of its plentiful top-up provision far outweigh the cost, says Dave Girard, vice-president of human resources.
"We think if they [employees] are off and they are resting and not worrying about the dollars and they are looking after their family they are going to come back happy and healthy and more dedicated to the organization. It pays off for us at the end of the day," Mr. Girard says.
In particular, the company finds having such a generous top-up helps with employee engagement and retention, he says. It also helps attract young people – both men and women – who are of childbearing age. That way, they are supported early in their careers and will want to remain with the company for the long haul, Mr. Girard says.
So far, it seems to be working. For the past few years, 83 per cent of women who take maternity leaves return to Trican. As well, both mothers and fathers are taking advantage of the top-ups, he says. About 75 per cent of mothers take maternity leave and 25 per cent of dads take parental leave.
"I think, when people are treated well, even when they are on leave, they will want to come back," Mr. Girard adds.
Ms. Diehl agrees. "When you return to work you can actually hit the ground running. You feel you can actually focus on your work."
Employer top-ups are not the norm. According to 2010 Statistics Canada report, the proportion of employees receiving top-ups remained stable at about one in five from 2000 to 2008 and the average top-up period was about 18 weeks.
StatsCan also found that working for a public-sector employer, rather than private-sector one, made it more likely that a mother received top-up maternity pay, and for a longer period. Forty-eight per cent of mothers working at hospitals, universities or other public-sector jobs received the top-up for 22 weeks compared with 8 per cent of mothers in the private sector, who received an average top-up of 12 weeks.
Simon Fraser University is one of the public-sector employers in this year's Top 100 which has been offering maternity leave top-ups since the 1980s. SFU offers new moms, dads and adoptive parents up to 100 per cent top-up for 37 weeks. Dario Nonis, executive director of human resources, says that for SFU, part of the incentive is that women make up a large portion of the staff. "We like to be a fairly enlightened employer and we don't want to lose good employees. This provides them the option of some extra compensation and presumably they will come back to work after the leave."
And SFU's turnover rate is very low – 4.08 per cent in 2011. That year, 54 employees were provided parental/maternal leave top-up.
The National Energy Board, an independent federal agency, also provides a generous top-up for its employees – maternity leave top-ups of up to 93 per cent of salary for new mothers for 52 weeks and paternity top-ups of up to 93 per cent of salary for 37 weeks.
In determining the top-up amount, the NEB, based in Calgary, follows the guidelines outlined by the federal public service, says Elaine McDonald, human resources team leader. Federal employees all currently receive 93 per cent. But as an employer also offering generous pat-leave top-ups, says she has seen a sea change in the number of fathers taking leave.
"It helps them get acquainted with their families….I don't think there is a stigma against that any more. I think the gentlemen here are really willing to do that."
Indeed, NEB employee Andrew McLeod, who took two parental leaves, is grateful. "Having the support of my employer, both financially and domestically, was incredibly valuable to me. It allowed me the opportunity to comfortably spend time raising and acquainting myself with both of my young boys."
For all the good reasons to offer top-ups, why aren't more companies doing so?
Mr. Nonis speculates that in the current economic climate, many private-sector companies are looking at trimming benefits. That said, there are still a number of large companies in the private sector offering attractive top-up packages because they see the longer-term rewards.
Toronto Hydro supports eligible new mothers with up to a 95 per cent top-up for a year and up to 37 weeks for eligible fathers and adoptive parents. Monica Warnell, compensation and benefits specialist, says the company does so to ensure it is "market competitive in the industry we operate within and that we compete for talent within."
Coming up with the right top-up amount comes from looking at external market surveys and what other, similar-sized, competitive companies are doing, she says.
Besides supporting new parents financially, Toronto Hydro also ensures that employees remain connected with the company while on leave. The company's innovative "onboarding" program provides employers on leave with updates on changes that may be happening within the workplace, inviting them to employee events and any necessary training they may need upon their return.
Along with being appreciative of the benefits because of reduced financial stress, Toronto Hydro finds employees' commitment to the organization is strengthened, Ms. Warnell says. "They really feel supported by their leaders when they have that continued contact with them … and a transition plan to prepare to return."
One in six Canadian couples has difficulty conceiving, according to a 2011 study by Conceivable Dreams, an organization that raises awareness of infertility in Canada. However, the cost of in vitro fertilization is prohibitive for many – averaging around $10,000 an attempt, depending on the province. Among the Top 100 Employers, a small number fund IVF or fertility treatments or both:
Accenture Plc. offers in vitro fertilization treatments to a maximum of $15,000.
Bayer Inc. provides up to $15,000 for in vitro.
Business Development Bank of Canada offers an in vitro fertilization subsidy of up to $5,000.
Stryker Canada Inc. gives parents the option of up to $15,000 in in vitro coverage.
World Vision Canada provides an in vitro subsidy of $5,000.
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre provides $16,000 in its benefits plan for fertility drugs and/or IVF.
University of Toronto employees enrolled in the university's health plans are covered for prescription fertility treatment drugs.
Johnson Inc. offers a $15,000 lifetime maximum benefit toward the medication needed for IVF.
Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children provides fertility drug benefits of $2,400. IVF drugs, but not the implantation process, are covered.
Toronto Hydro provides 100 per cent coverage for fertility drugs, up to a reasonable and customary maximum.