Imagine that one day—through an unfortunate twist of fate—you find yourself out of work. Maybe you suffer a serious injury that keeps you in bed for several months. Or maybe your mom gets sick and you need to look after her. This is where the Employment Insurance program comes in. Learn about EI benefits, and how to apply.
What is Employment Insurance?
Employment Insurance benefits are temporary payments made to people who lose their job through no fault of their own. EI, as it’s often called, also offers help if you can’t work because of illness or injury. And it provides benefits for people who take time off to care for family members who are ill or injured.
The EI program is run by the federal government (see the “Get help” section below).
Who qualifies for Employment Insurance?
“When my internship ended, I worried I wouldn’t have any income while I searched for a new job. After a couple weeks without any job offers, I decided to apply for EI. I collected payments for about six weeks before starting work at a new company. The payments really took the stress off, and I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t applied.”
– Betty, Victoria
Under the law in Canada, you may qualify for “regular benefits” under Employment Insurance if all of the following apply to you:
- You paid into Employment Insurance as an employee.
- You worked for the minimum number of hours during the “qualifying period”. The qualifying period is the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter. The minimum number of hours is between 420 and 700 hours, depending on where you live.
- You lost your job through no fault of your own. (You will not qualify for EI benefits if you quit your last job, unless you can prove you quit for a good reason.)
- You’ve been without work and pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks.
- You’ve run out of any vacation or severance pay you received.
- You are ready, willing and capable of working, and are actively looking for work.
Extending the qualifying period
The qualifying period can be extended up to 104 weeks if you couldn’t work because you were:
- ill, injured, quarantined or pregnant
- in jail or a penitentiary
- attending an instructional course that the federal government sent you to
A longer qualifying period helps if you haven’t worked enough hours in the normal qualifying period. You have to ask for an extension and show you fall into one of the above categories.
Certain actions make you ineligible for EI
You may not be eligible for benefits if you:
- chose to leave your job
- were dismissed for misconduct
- are unemployed because you are directly participating in a labour dispute (for example, a strike or lockout)
You aren’t eligible to receive EI benefits if you’re in jail, a penitentiary, or a similar institution.
If you aren’t eligible for regular EI benefits, try the Benefits Finder to discover other benefits you might apply for.
There are various types of benefits available
In addition to regular benefits, there are other types of EI benefits available. These are:
- Maternity and parental benefits, for people who can’t work because they are pregnant, recently had a baby, are adopting a child, or are caring for a baby.
- Sickness benefits, for people who can’t work because they’re ill, injured or quarantined.
- Family caregiver benefits, for people who can’t work because they’ve stepped away to care for or support a critically ill or injured family member.
- Compassionate care benefits, for people who can’t work because they’ve stepped away to care for or support a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death within six months.
- Benefits for parents of critically ill children, for eligible parents who take time off work to care for their critically ill or injured child.
- Fishing benefits, for self-employed fishers who are actively seeking work.
The Service Canada website explains who qualifies for these benefits, and how to apply.
For EI family caregiver and compassionate care benefits, a family member includes immediate family as well as other relatives and individuals considered to be like family, whether they’re related or not.
How much do you get?
The amount of Employment Insurance you receive is determined by how much you’ve been earning and where you live. The government sets a maximum insurable amount. This figure changes over time. Check the Service Canada website for the current figure.
In calculating your EI benefits, the government considers your gross earnings (before deductions), including tips and commissions. EI benefits are taxable income, so taxes are deducted.
EI benefits are based on your highest weeks of earnings over the qualifying period (usually 52 weeks). Your benefits are calculated over a set number of weeks. That number can range from 14 to 22 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate in your region.
An EI supplement is available to families that meet certain criteria. You’re eligible for the family supplement if:
- You’re in a low-income family.
- You have children.
- You or your spouse receive the Canada Child Benefit.
Your benefits may be reduced if you earn certain income
Your EI benefits may be reduced if you earn other types of income during your benefit period. These include:
- Pension income from the Canada Pension Plan or another provincial pension plan.
- Pension income from employment (unless you’ve worked at another job long enough, after the pension starts, to qualify for EI).
- Money awarded by a court for wrongful dismissal.
- Severance pay.
- “Callback pay”, which is money your employer pays you to come back to work for a short period after your employment has ended.
- Self-employment income.
Other types of income won’t lower your EI benefits
You can earn other types of income without having your EI benefits reduced. These include:
- Pension income from an RRSP or RRIF.
- The Old Age Security pension.
- Pension payments from a legal separation or divorce.
- A pension paid by Veterans Affairs Canada.
- Disability benefits.
- Survivor or dependent benefits.
- Spousal support.
To see a full list of income sources and how they may affect your EI benefits, check out this earnings chart.
You can work part-time and still get EI
Landing part-time work doesn’t necessarily cut off your EI payments. Under the Working While on Claim pilot project, you keep 50 cents of EI benefits for every dollar you earn in wages, up to a maximum amount.
You must report any income you earn while you’re receiving EI. You need to submit your report and declare your earnings online each week.
You can’t work full-time while getting EI benefits.
You may be able to leave Canada and still get EI
In some circumstances, you can leave Canada and still receive Employment Insurance benefits.
While travelling abroad
Your EI benefits won’t be interrupted if you’re outside of Canada for up to seven consecutive days to do one of the following:
- Attend the funeral of a member of your immediate family or a close relative.
- Accompany a member of your immediate family to a medical facility, if the treatment isn’t available where they live in Canada.
- Visit a member of your immediate family who is seriously ill or injured.
- Attend a job interview.
You can also be outside of Canada for up to 14 days in a row if you’re looking for a job.
If you live or work abroad
Typically, if you work outside of Canada for a Canadian company or the Canadian government, you’re eligible for EI benefits. However, you can’t collect EI benefits if your job is covered by a similar program in the country you’re working in.
If you live outside Canada, you may be eligible for some types of EI in certain cases. As well, you may be eligible if you live in Canada or the US and regularly cross the Canada/US border between your home and workplace.
The Service Canada website has more information about EI for workers and residents outside of Canada.
While you’re away, the government may compare your EI reports with data from the Canada Border Services Agency. If they find that you’ve been misreporting the amount of time you’ve been abroad, you may have to pay a penalty.
Step 1. Gather your information
Before applying for Employment Insurance benefits, collect all the documents and information you’ll need. These include:
- your Social Insurance Number
- your personal identification (for example, your driver’s licence or passport)
- your bank information for direct deposit
- details of your most recent employment (including your salary and other benefits)
- your detailed version of the circumstances of your leaving your job
- your Record of Employment (ROE)
Your ROE is a document that proves you were employed. You will need an ROE from each employer you worked for in the previous 52 weeks. Your employer can issue your ROE electronically or in paper form. Ask your employer which method they will use. If it’s electronic, you don’t need a copy; your employer will send it directly to Service Canada. If it’s a paper ROE, ask for a copy as soon as your job ends.
If for some reason your employer doesn’t issue your ROE, go to your local Service Canada office for help. There you can fill out a form explaining how you tried to get the ROE. You’ll also have to provide proof of your employment (for example, a pay stub or T4 slip).
Step 2. Submit the application
You should apply for EI benefits as soon as you stop working. You can apply for benefits even if you receive money when you leave your job, and even if you have not yet received your Record of Employment. If you delay applying for more than four weeks after your last day of work, you may lose benefits.
You must apply for EI using an online application form. You can fill it out:
Step 3. After you apply
If your application for EI benefits is approved, there may be a one-week “waiting period” for which you will not be paid.
If your application is denied, Service Canada will contact you by letter or phone to explain why. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to ask for a reconsideration.
While you are receiving EI benefits, you must submit a report every two weeks. You can submit your report:
Step 4. If your application is denied, request a reconsideration
If your application for EI benefits is denied, your first step to challenge the decision is to request a reconsideration. There is no cost to do this. You must submit your request to Service Canada within 30 days from when the decision was sent to you. If you miss the deadline, you must provide a reason why.
To request a reconsideration, fill out the online Request for Reconsideration form. Once you’ve filled it out, print, sign and mail the form to your regional Service Canada office noted on the form.
Step 5. Appeal the reconsideration decision
If you disagree with the decision made on your request for reconsideration, you can appeal to the Social Security Tribunal. This is a body similar to a court that hears appeals on pensions and benefits provided by the federal government.
You must submit your appeal within 30 days of receiving the reconsideration decision. The appeal must be in the prescribed form. Service Canada has more information about how to appeal on its website.
The tribunal will consider your appeal. They may hold a hearing, which could happen by teleconference, in person or in writing. The tribunal will make a decision on your appeal and send you the decision in writing.
If you disagree with the tribunal’s decision on your appeal, you can ask for “leave” (permission) to make a further appeal to the Appeal Division of the Social Security Tribunal.
Can I qualify for EI if I’m self-employed?
Yes. Under the law in Canada, self-employed workers can get special benefits in some cases. To be eligible, you must:
- be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and
- register with the government (by signing an agreement), and
- operate your own business, or work for a corporation but control more than 40% of the voting shares, and
- wait 12 months after registering.
There are six types of EI special benefits available to self-employed workers. The Service Canada website describes them in detail, and has instructions on how to apply.
How long can I collect EI?
You can get regular EI benefits for a period ranging from 14 to 45 weeks. The exact period depends on the unemployment rate in your region, and the number of insurable hours you worked in the qualifying period.
This chart should help you figure out how long you’re eligible to collect.
Can I get EI if I quit my job?
It depends. If you quit your job without a good reason, you aren’t eligible for Employment Insurance benefits. Generally, you must have had no other reasonable choice but to leave your job. Some examples of this type of situation include the following:
- You experienced sexual or other harassment.
- You experienced discrimination.
- Your working conditions were unsafe.
- Your employer wasn’t paying you the wages you were legally owed.
- Your employer made major changes to your work duties.
When you apply for EI, you’ll probably have to explain what steps you took to solve the problem before you quit. For example, if your boss isn’t paying you on time, you should try to fix the problem by talking to your boss or someone else in management.
Service Canada is the federal agency that administers the Employment Insurance program. They can help with any questions or concerns you have about EI benefits.