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 series of relief benefits. We’re here to help you determine which benefits are a fit for your situation. 

Alert!

The Canada worker lockdown benefit program and both recovery benefit programs expired on May 7, 2022. Applications for these benefits are now closed. See the federal government's website for more info.

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 currently operating. 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 sickness benefit (CRSB) is a $500 weekly payment, for up to six 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 44 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. 

  • The Canada worker lockdown benefit (CWLB) is a $300 weekly payment. It’s available to those whose work has been affected by a COVID-19 lockdown in their area, for as long as the lockdown lasts. 

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, have 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 were let go as a result of a COVID-19 lockdown in your area, you may be eligible for the Canada worker lockdown benefit (CWLB). To qualify, you must meet all these criteria for the one-week period you’re applying for:

  • the place where you live, work, or provide services is designated as a COVID-19 lockdown region,

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

  • you didn’t quit your job, voluntarily stop working, or refuse work (unless it was reasonable to do so).

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

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 worker lockdown benefit (CWLB). It’s available to those who:

  • live, work, or provide services in a place designated as a COVID-19 lockdown region, and

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

See the full requirements to qualify for the CWLB.

Another option to consider: you could ask your employer about the various wage and hiring supports for businesses affected by the pandemic. These programs offer subsidies to eligible employers to cover the cost of paying their workers. The federal government’s website provides details.

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 may be eligible for the Canada worker lockdown benefit. It’s available to self-employed workers whose work has been affected by a COVID-19 lockdown. 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 employment insurance — unless you had no other reasonable alternative but to quit. In that case, you can still qualify for EI. The EI program outlines circumstances that can amount to “just cause” to quit.

The same goes for the Canadian worker lockdown benefit. Quitting your job voluntarily makes you ineligible — unless it was reasonable to do so. As well, you won’t qualify for this benefit if you turn down reasonable work or choose not to work from home if you’re able to.

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 support programs available to businesses. Employers who’ve seen a drop in their revenue due to the pandemic are eligible for subsidies to help pay their workers. The programs are explained here.

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 lockdown and 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 one- or 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 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 logo
Service Canada
Operates the employment insurance program. Together with the Canada Revenue Agency, they’re delivering the Canada recovery benefits.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in July 2022
  • Time to read: 8 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Kevin Love, Community Legal Assistance Society

Kevin Love

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