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The daddy (and mommy) of all employee benefits

Burke Moffat and his wife Alejandra Bravo with their children (from left) Oscar, Felix and Galya. Mr. Moffat took six months of parental leave when Oscar was born.

Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail/tim fraser The Globe and Mail

Burke Moffat is serious about fatherhood. Back in 2002, when his son Felix was born, he was the first father at the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO) to take a parental leave for two months. When his son Oscar was born, the 40-year-old labour relations specialist took six months off to help out at home.

"I wanted my kids to look up to me as 50 per cent of the parenting, not just as the father who brings home the bread," says Mr. Moffat. "This is how men are supposed to be fathers and interact with their society. Parenting is a partnership."

AMAPCEO offers new parents maternity top-up payments (a supplement to Employment Insurance benefits) of up to 93 per cent of salary for 52 weeks and the same top-up for parental leave for 37 weeks.

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Gary Gannage, AMAPCEO's president, sees these family-friendly benefits as a natural evolution in the workplace so that employees "don't have to choose between their career and their home life."

Other employers, such as food distributors Loblaw Companies Limited and Kraft Foods Canada, also lead with initiatives that help employees maintain a better balance between work and personal life.

Loblaw's provisions for new parents includes a 75 per cent top up for adoption leave for 10 weeks, and Kraft Canada offers fertility drug benefits as part of their flexible benefits program. These kinds of progressive policies that recognize a major life cycle event are deeply appreciated by employees.

"Families run like small economies, so if the money's not there, it would be hard to imagine how you could stay home," Mr. Moffat says. "Now I'm better able to understand what it means to put your career on hiatus and what the impact would be if a woman has to leave the work force for four or five years to raise children. It's given me a deeper understanding of some of these entitlements, and the stresses and pressures [felt by]51 per cent of the work force."

Mr. Moffat also found he was able to relate better to moms, such as his colleague Angela Stewart – when she came back from her recent maternity leave, he was able to share experiences with her from a first-person perspective, as a primary caregiver, and not just as a dad who is "babysitting" the kids.

Ms. Stewart, a director of administration, has taken two maternity leaves during her 16 years at AMAPCEO. She says that the benefits the company offers "absolutely made a difference" in her decision to go ahead and have children. The 93 per cent top-up payment made the time relatively stress-free financially.

"Knowing the benefits were there gave me more flexibility with my career, so there wasn't a pressure that I needed to have children at a certain time," says Ms. Stewart. "It was also a huge comfort that the company encourages you to take that leave to spend with your children in their first year, and to know there's job security. It makes you feel more loyal to the company."

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Higher retention is not the only bonus for employers. Mr. Moffat also sees family-friendly benefits as a recruitment incentive, and believes that an employee who's had this kind of leave will have better morale as well.

If there's no top-up, it sends a signal that employees aren't really supported in their choices for maternity or parental leave.

"It has an impact on something that's greater than just our day-to-day work environment," he says. "It makes us better employees, sure, but it also makes us better parents, partners and citizens. We understand things from a different perspective. Parenting traditionally has focused on moms, but there's been a shift there."

Mr. Moffat is concerned that there are still negative repercussions for men in some organizations if they choose to take parental leave – and in some instances, that the leave may be denied entirely, even when it's technically offered as part of a company's benefits package.

"I've spoken to men in other workplaces where they've been told flat out that if they take a parental leave, they won't be employed there," says Mr. Moffat. "I think that those negative repercussions [are less visible]for women now, but I don't know if that's true for men."

One ripple effect that he's seen in his own family is how his children see him – as a role model.

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"Several years ago, when my three-year-old was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, 'I want to be a dad,'" says Mr. Moffat proudly. "What does that mean? It means I buy the food and cook dinner, I pick the kids up from school and take them to daycare. That's what he saw."

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