Imagine that one day — through an unfortunate twist of fate — you find yourself out of work. Maybe you get laid off when your employer goes out of business. Or maybe you suffer a serious injury that keeps you in bed for several months. This is where the employment insurance program comes in. Learn about EI benefits, and how to apply.
The federal government has adjusted some of the rules around employment insurance and related benefits to help workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We have placed several alerts in the information below. For how EI benefits and emergency benefits intersect, see our in-depth coverage of coronavirus and benefits for workers.
Employment insurance benefits help people who are without work
“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
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 work to have or parent a child, or to care for family members who are ill or injured.
Qualifying for EI regular benefits
The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The CERB benefit, explained here, provides a $2,000 payment every four weeks, for up to 16 weeks. It’s available to those who are eligible for EI and those not covered by EI (such as the self-employed).
EI regular benefits are temporary payments made to those who lose their job through no fault of their own. To qualify, you must:
- in the last 52 weeks, have worked a minimum number of hours in work covered by the EI program (the number depends on where you live in BC; in the Vancouver region, it’s 700 hours)
- have 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 options, you wouldn’t qualify for EI)
- have gone seven straight days without work or pay from a particular employer
There are more requirements. Here are the details.
If you qualify, you receive 55% of your pay, up to a weekly maximum.
The benefits last between 14 and 45 weeks, depending on how many hours you worked in the last 52 weeks and where you live in BC. For example, if you worked full-time hours in the Vancouver region for the full 52 weeks, you get benefits for 36 weeks. This chart shows benefit periods by hours worked and region.
Extending the qualifying period
The qualifying period can be extended from the last 52 weeks up to 104 weeks if you couldn’t work for certain reasons. Examples include being ill, injured, or pregnant. A longer qualifying period helps if you haven’t worked enough hours in the normal qualifying period.
Certain actions make you ineligible for EI
You may not be eligible for EI regular benefits if you:
- chose to leave your job when you had other options
- were dismissed for misconduct
- are unemployed because you are directly participating in a labour dispute (for example, a strike or lockout)
- are in jail, a penitentiary, or a similar institution
If you aren’t eligible for regular EI benefits, try the federal government's Benefits Finder to discover other benefits you might apply for.
Other types of EI benefits help those who are sick, parenting, or caring for someone
If your work has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) may provide you with temporary income support. It covers (among others) those who are in quarantine or sick due to COVID-19, and those who are taking care of others for a COVID-related reason. Learn more about CERB.
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 you might get on EI
The amount of employment insurance you receive is determined by the type of EI benefit, how much you’ve been earning, and where you live. For most people, the basic rate for calculating EI regular benefits is 55% of your pay, up to a maximum amount. See the federal government website for the current maximum amount.
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). The number of “best weeks” considered in the calculation ranges from 14 to 22 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate in your region.
You can get more if you are in a low-income family or otherwise qualify for a family supplement.
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 cut off your EI payments. Under the working while on claim rules, 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.
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. 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. You will need an ROE from each employer you worked for in the previous 52 weeks.
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. Apply for benefits
The federal government has introduced the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) to help those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. It provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to 16 weeks. The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether CERB or employment insurance, to start the application on the CERB portal. The portal guides you through a set of questions, and routes you to where you submit your benefits 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.
Step 3. After you apply
Workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic who have applied for EI sickness benefits are eligible to have the one-week waiting period for benefits waived. Once you’ve filed your application, call the coronavirus EI hotline at 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free).
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 online using the government's internet reporting service, by phone using their telephone reporting service at 1-800-531-7555, or by filling out and submitting a paper copy.
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. It hears appeals on pensions and benefits provided by the federal government.
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?
The Canada emergency response benefit provides up to $2,000 every four weeks for up to 16 weeks for those whose work has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The benefit is available to self-employed people who would not otherwise be eligible for EI.
In part, yes. You can't get EI regular benefits. But self-employed workers can get EI 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.
Can I get EI if I quit my job?
It depends. If you voluntarily quit your job “without just cause,” you are not eligible for EI regular benefits. What could amount to “just cause” to quit? Some examples include:
- 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
The EI program outlines circumstances that can amount to "just cause" to quit.
When you apply for EI, you must show that quitting your job was the only reasonable alternative in your case, considering all the circumstances. In other words, you took all the necessary steps to avoid being unemployed. For example, if your boss isn’t paying you on time, you’ll need to show how you tried to fix the problem — such as by talking to your boss or someone else in management. (We offer tips for talking with your employer.)
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. See this chart.
Can I leave Canada temporarily and still get EI benefits?
In some circumstances, you can leave Canada and still receive employment insurance benefits.
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.
While you’re away, the government may compare your EI reports with data from the Canada Border Services Agency. If they find you’ve been misreporting the amount of time you’ve been abroad, you may have to pay a penalty.
Can I live or work outside Canada and still get EI?
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.
See the Service Canada website for more on EI for workers and residents outside of Canada.
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.
Call: 1-800-206-7218 (toll-free)