fbpx Coronavirus & Benefits for Workers: Which Benefits Are For You? - Figuring out which benefits you can get | People's Law School

You are here

Coronavirus & Benefits for Workers: Which Benefits Are For You? - Figuring out which benefits you can get

Figuring out which benefits you can get

The benefit programs at a glance

The federal government has expanded its main program to help people who are out of work, employment insurance (EI). And two new emergency programs are available to workers affected by the pandemic.

  • The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is a $2,000 payment every four weeks, for up to 24 weeks. It's available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also available to workers eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits, and those who have recently exhausted their EI benefits.
  • Those who have lost their job through no fault of their own can get EI regular benefits for 14 to 45 weeks. 
  • Those not able to work because of illness or quarantine can get EI sickness benefits for up to 15 weeks.
  • Those approved for the CERB or who stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020, can also get the BC emergency benefit for workers, a one-time $1,000 payment.

We unpack each of these benefits in our 3-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.

It’s important to understand that you may be eligible for more than one of these financial supports. A key factor is when your job situation changed.

March 15 is a key date for your eligibility

The date March 15, 2020 is important. If you stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic after that date, you are eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit. 

You may also be eligible for EI benefits, depending on your circumstances. We walk through various scenarios below.  

Generally, if you stopped working before March 15, you’re not eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit. (There are some exceptions, as explained below.) The regular EI rules apply. If you haven’t yet applied for EI, it's a good idea to do so.

If you stopped working between March 1 and 14, 2020, you may be eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers.

Note that the federal government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether CERB or EI, to start their application on the Canada emergency response benefit portal. The portal guides you through a set of questions, and routes you to where you submit your benefits application. See the “Take action” section below for more on the application process.

If you’ve been let go from your job

“It seems one day I was reading about a new virus halfway across the world, and the next our community had come to a standstill. My workplace shut down literally overnight. I’ve got enough saved to pay rent next month, but after that I’ll definitely need some help.”

– Marissa, Coquitlam

If you’ve lost your job due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB). The other main criteria to qualify are:

  • you are a Canadian resident
  • you are age 15 or older
  • you made at least $5,000 in income in 2019 or in the 12 months before you apply
  • you have not received more than $1,000 in income from work (before taxes) in the last four weeks

See the full requirements to qualify for CERB benefits.

You may also be eligible for EI regular benefits. 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 is more to qualifying for EI. Here are the details.

Note that the government is advising that if you’ve stopped working because of the pandemic, you should start your benefits application on the Canada emergency response benefit portal, whether or not you’re eligible for EI.

If you qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit, you are eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers. You may also be eligible for the provincial benefit if you stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020. Here is the full list of requirements.

If you qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit and EI benefits, you will receive the CERB benefit first. Your EI claim will be frozen while you get the CERB benefit. If you’re still out of work after getting the 24 weeks of the CERB benefit, you can start your normal EI benefits.

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

The Canada emergency response benefit is intended to help all those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

If you haven’t been let go from your job but there is no work for you (in other words: you’ve been laid off temporarily), you’re eligible for the CERB benefit. You may also be eligible for CERB if your hours have been cut due to the pandemic: it’s available to workers who currently earn no more than $1,000 per month. See the full requirements to qualify for CERB

You may also be eligible for EI regular benefitsHere are the EI eligibility requirements.

Note that the government is advising that if you’ve stopped working because of the pandemic, you should start your benefits application on the Canada emergency response benefit portal, whether or not you’re eligible for EI.

Another option to consider is asking your employer about the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Under this program, explained here, the federal government subsidizes employers for up to 75% of their workers’ wages. If your employer qualifies, you could continue being employed and get paid at least 75% of your regular wage for up to three months. The benefit payments max out at $847 per week, and are retroactive to March 15. 

One more thing: If you qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit, you are eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers. As well, you may be eligible for the provincial benefit if you stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020. Here's the full list of requirements.

For the steps involved in applying for the various benefits, see below, under "Take action."

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. Here's who can qualify for EI sickness benefits

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

Note that the government is advising that if you’ve stopped working because of the pandemic, you should start your benefits application on the Canada emergency response benefit portal, whether or not you’re eligible for EI.

Also: If you qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit, you are eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers. You may also be eligible for the provincial benefit if you stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020. Here is the full list of 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, 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 emergency response benefit. See the requirements

As well, you may 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 a minimum of 600 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.

Note that the government is advising that if you’ve stopped working because of the pandemic, you should start your benefits application on the Canada emergency response benefit portal, whether or not you’re eligible for EI.

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.  

One more thing: If you qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit, you are eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers. If you don't qualify for the CERB, you may still be eligible for the provincial benefit if you stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020. See the requirements.

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 is sick.  

If you’re caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19, you’re eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit. See the requirements.

If you’re caring for someone who is 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 a minimum of 600 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

Also: If you qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit, you are eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers

If you need to stay home to look after your children

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

If not, the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is available to working parents who must stay home without pay to care for kids who are sick or need additional care because of school and daycare closures. You can apply for this benefit. See the requirements.

If you apply for the federal emergency benefit, you can also apply for the BC emergency benefit for workers. It is available to those approved for the CERB benefit. It's also available to workers who stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020. See the requirements

If you’re a student who has lost work or can’t find work

There is financial help available to post-secondary students who have lost work or won’t be able to find work due to coronavirus. The Canada emergency student benefit provides eligible students with $1,250 for each four-week period ($2,000 for students with dependents or a disability). This benefit is meant to provide relief to students who don't qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) or employment insurance.

To be eligible, one of the following must apply:

  • you are enrolled in a post-secondary program that leads to a degree or certificate,
  • you ended your post-secondary studies in December 2019 or later, or
  • you completed high school in 2020 and have applied for a post-secondary program. 

You can earn up to $1,000 per month and still be eligible. The benefit is available from May to August, 2020.

See the full requirements, and how to apply.

If you've recently exhausted your EI benefits

If your EI benefits have recently run out and you’re unable to find a job because of the coronavirus pandemic, you can qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit. To qualify, you must have received regular EI benefits after December 29, 2019, and meet the other requirements for the CERB benefit.

Those approved for the CERB benefit are eligible for the BC emergency benefit for workers. You may also be eligible for the provincial benefit if you stopped working due to the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and 14, 2020. Here is the full list of requirements.

Note: If you’re currently receiving EI benefits, they’ll continue as usual. You aren't eligible for the CERB benefit. However, if you use up your EI before October 2 and are still unemployed, you can switch to the CERB benefit if you meet the criteria.

If you quit your job

If you quit your job voluntarily, you won’t qualify for the Canada emergency response benefit.

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.