Coronavirus & benefits for workers: Which are for you?

“When the pandemic first hit, my workplace shut down. I applied for the CERB, which helped me weather things until I got called back to work. Now, my company is struggling again. I think I may be out of a job soon. Am I eligible for EI, or one of the recovery benefits?”

– Shannon, Vancouver, BC

Millions of Canadians continue to feel the economic sting of the coronavirus pandemic. To help ease the burden, the federal government first introduced emergency benefits for workers, and then a program of relief benefits. We’re here to help you determine which benefits are a fit for your situation.

Figuring out which benefits you can get

The benefit programs at a glance

Employment insurance (commonly called EI) is the federal government’s program to help people who are out of work. Due to the pandemic, the EI program has been temporarily expanded to cover more workers. In addition to EI, there are three relief programs. The result:

  • Those who have lost their job through no fault of their own can get EI regular benefits for up to 45 weeks. 

  • The Canada recovery benefit (CRB) is a $600 payment every two weeks, for up to 54 weeks. It’s available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and who don’t qualify for EI. 

  • The Canada recovery sickness benefit (CRSB) is a $500 weekly payment, for up to four weeks. It’s available to those who aren’t able to work at least 50% of the week because they’re ill or self-isolating due to the pandemic, or have an underlying medical condition that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19.

  • The Canada recovery caregiving benefit (CRCB) is a $500 weekly payment, for up to 42 weeks. It’s available to those who aren’t able to work at least 50% of the week because they’re caring for a child or family member affected by the pandemic. 

We unpack each of these benefits in our 5-minute summary of the coronavirus supports for workers. We recommend you read that first. Here, we’re going to help you figure out which benefit programs might be a fit for your situation. 

If you’ve been let go from your job

If you’ve lost your job through no fault of your own, you may qualify for EI regular benefits. The main criteria to qualify are:

  • in the last 52 weeks, you've worked at least 420 hours in work covered by the EI program

  • you’ve lost your job through no fault of your own (for example, if you were fired for misconduct or you chose to quit when you had other reasonable options, you wouldn’t qualify for EI)

  • you’ve gone seven straight days without work or pay from a particular employer

See the full requirements to qualify for EI benefits

If you don’t qualify for EI, you may still be eligible for the Canada recovery benefit (CRB). To qualify you must meet all these criteria for the two-week period you’re applying for:

  • due to the coronavirus pandemic, you weren’t working or have seen your weekly income reduced by 50% compared to last year,

  • you didn’t receive workers’ compensation, disability, or other recovery benefits, and

  • you aren’t eligible for EI benefits.

There are additional requirements. Here’s the full list.

If you’ve exhausted your EI benefits

If you’ve used up all your employment insurance benefits, you may be eligible for the Canada recovery benefit (CRB). It’s available to those who:

  • aren’t working due to the coronavirus pandemic, or

  • have had a 50% reduction in their average weekly income compared to last year, due to the pandemic.

If you apply after September 27, 2021, any money you received from EI after September 27, 2020 counts towards the $5,000 in income you need to qualify for the CRB. Here’s the full list of requirements.

If you qualify for the CRB, you may receive $600 every two weeks. The CRB program is set to expire on October 23, 2021.

See the government’s website for more on transitioning from EI to the CRB.

If you still have your job but there’s no work for you or your hours have been cut

If you haven’t been let go from your job but there’s no work for you (in other words you’ve been laid off temporarily), you may be eligible for EI regular benefits. The requirements to qualify for EI have been temporarily relaxed due to the pandemic. Here are the EI eligibility requirements

If you don’t qualify for EI, you may be eligible for the Canada recovery benefit (CRB). It’s available to those who:

  • aren’t working due to the coronavirus pandemic, or 

  • have had a 50% reduction in their average weekly income compared to last year due to the pandemic.

See the full requirements to qualify for the CRB.

Another option to consider: you could ask your employer about the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Under this program, explained here, the federal government subsidizes employers for a portion of their workers’ wages. If your employer qualifies, you could stay employed and get paid a percentage of your regular wage. 

If you’re self-employed

Unlike employees, a self-employed person isn’t covered by employment insurance — unless they register themselves and pay into the EI system. (Even then, they can’t get regular EI benefits, just special benefits like sickness benefits and pregnancy benefits.) 

If you haven’t been paying into EI, you can apply for the Canada recovery benefit. It’s available to self-employed people (or contract workers) who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for EI and whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. See the requirements

If you can’t work because you’re sick or quarantined

If you’re unable to work because you’re sick with COVID-19 or quarantined, there may be help for you. A starting point is whether your workplace offers paid sick leave or a short-term disability plan. 

If not, you’re eligible for the Canada recovery sickness benefit (CRSB). It’s available to those who are self-isolating and not able to work at least 50% of their usual work week because:

  • they’re sick with COVID-19 or may have it,

  • they’ve been advised to self-isolate, or

  • they have an underlying health condition that puts them at a greater risk of getting COVID-19.

See the requirements.

You may also be eligible for EI sickness benefits. These benefits are paid to those who can’t work for medical reasons and:

  • in the last 52 weeks, have worked at least 420 hours in work covered by the EI program

  • have seen their average weekly pay decrease by more than 40% for at least one week

Here’s who can qualify.

If you’re eligible for both the CRSB and EI sickness benefits, you can choose which one you want to claim. However, you can’t get both the CRSB and EI for the same period. 

Also, if you have COVID-19 through being exposed to the virus in your workplace, you can file a workers’ compensation claim. You can only get workers’ compensation if you got sick from work, and not in some other way. Visit WorkSafe BC’s website for more.

If you can’t work because you’re caring for someone who is sick

First, check to see if your employer offers paid leave. Some workplace plans cover workers who are caring for someone who’s ill.

If you’re caring for someone who’s sick with COVID-19, you’re eligible for the Canada recovery caregiving benefit (CRCB). It’s available to those who can’t work at least 50% of their usual work week because they’re caring for a family member who is self-isolating, sick with COVID-19, or can’t access their usual care. Here’s the full list of requirements

If you’re caring for someone who’s critically ill or in need of end-of-life care, you could be eligible for EI caregiver benefits. To qualify, you must:

  • in the last 52 weeks, have worked at least 420 hours in work covered by the EI program

  • have seen your average weekly pay decrease by more than 40% for at least one week

See the full requirements

If you’re eligible for both the CRCB and EI caregiver benefits, you can choose which one you want to claim. However, you can’t get both the CRCB and EI for the same period. 

If you need to stay home to look after your children

First, check to see if your employer offers paid leave. 

If not, you may be eligible for the Canada recovery caregiving benefit (CRCB). It’s available to those who aren’t able to work at least 50% of their usual work week because they’re caring for kids. It could be that the kids are sick or they need additional care because of school and daycare closures. See the requirements

If you quit your job

If you quit your job voluntarily, you won’t qualify for any of the Canada recovery benefits — unless it was reasonable to do so. That is, if you had no reasonable alternative but to quit, you can still qualify for employment insurance. The EI program outlines circumstances that can amount to “just cause” to quit

Take action

Step 1. Clarify which benefits you might be eligible for

First, get a handle on the benefits available. If you haven’t done so yet, take a look at our summary of the benefit programs

Step 2. Consider talking with your employer

You might want to have a talk with your employer. If they’re struggling to keep the doors open, ask for their thoughts on the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Under this program, explained here, the federal government subsidizes employers for a portion of their workers’ wages. 

A step-by-step guide to having the conversation

Approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips to help you talk with your employer

Step 3. Apply for federal benefits (a recovery benefit or EI, but not both)

Employment insurance

Service Canada is the federal government office that runs the employment insurance program. All applications for EI must be submitted to this office. For step-by-step guidance, see our information on applying for employment insurance.

You should receive your EI payment within four days of the end of the two-week period that you were out of work.   

Canada recovery benefits

The best way to apply for recovery benefits is through your account on the CRA’s website. If you don’t have access to the internet, you can apply by phone at 1-800-959-2019.

Unlike the CERB, you apply after the two-week period you’re applying for has ended. Applications don’t renew automatically — you need to reapply for each period separately. You must apply within 60 days of the end of the period you’re applying for. 

You can’t apply for more than one recovery benefit for the same period. And you can’t apply if you’re receiving other benefits (for example, EI or paid leave). 

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Service Canada
Operates the employment insurance program. Together with the Canada Revenue Agency, they’re delivering the Canada recovery benefits.

  • Reviewed in October 2021
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 8 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Kevin Love, Community Legal Assistance Society

Kevin Love

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