The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc upon the global economy. Efforts to contain the virus, such as public closures, social distancing, and self-isolation will mean that hundreds of thousands of Canadians will be laid off from their jobs. Many more have self-isolated and will lose the ability to earn an income. This article will explain the ins and outs of Employment Insurance and EI Sickness Benefits, including how to apply for EI, how much to expect, how long to expect it for, and what other measures the federal government has put in place to help Canadians who suddenly find themselves without a job.
To quickly summarize:
How to apply for EI:
Employment Insurance is administered by the federal government. Eligible applicants can apply for EI online here – scroll to the bottom of the page under ‘Apply now’ and click ‘Start application’.
Which EI benefits to apply for:
Apply for EI Regular Benefits if you have been laid off, or your workplace has been shut down.
Apply for EI Sickness Benefits if you are sick with COVID-19 or have self-isolated (quarantined).
* Note – the government has waived the one-week waiting period for new sickness benefits claims and implemented a new toll-free number for these calls: 1-833-381-2725. It does not require a medical certificate right now.
What to have before you apply:
Make sure to obtain a record of employment (ROE) for any jobs you’ve had in the past 52-week period.
You qualify for EI based on the eligible hours you’ve worked in the past 52 weeks. You will need between 420 and 700 hours of insurable employment to qualify for regular benefits. This is based on the unemployment rate in your area during the qualifying period.
How much can you receive?
For most people, the basic rate for calculating EI benefits is 55% of your average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount.
As of January 1, 2020, the maximum yearly insurable earnings amount is $54,200. This means that you can receive a maximum amount of $573 per week.
Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits and Leave Overview
Employment Insurance (EI) provides regular benefits to Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The cause may be due to a shortage of work, seasonal layoffs, or mass layoffs. These individuals are available for work, and able to work, but can’t find a job.
The key is to always apply for EI benefits as soon as you stop working. You can apply for benefits even if you have not yet received your Record of Employment (ROE). You may lose benefits if you delay filing your claim for more than four weeks after your last day of work.
You may qualify for Employment Insurance (EI) regular benefits if you:
- were employed in insurable employment;
- lost your job through no fault of your own;
- have been without work and without pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks;
- have worked for the required number of insurable employment hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter;
- are ready, willing and capable of working each day;
- are actively looking for work (you must keep a written record of employers you contact, including when you contacted them).
You may not be entitled for benefits:
- if you voluntarily left your job without just cause
- if you were dismissed for misconduct
- if you are unemployed because you are directly participating in a labour dispute (for example, a strike, lockout or other type of conflict)
- during a period of leave that compensates for a period in which you worked under an agreement with your employer, more hours than are normally worked in full-time employment.
Number of hours required to qualify for EI
The number of hours of insurable employment needed to qualify for EI depends on your situation. However, in all cases, the hours of insurable employment used to calculate your benefit must have been accumulated during your qualifying period, which is the shorter of:
- the 52-week period immediately before the start date of your claim; or
- the period from the start of a previous benefit period to the start of your new benefit period, if you applied for benefits earlier and your application was approved in the last 52 weeks.
Exception: In some cases, the qualifying period may be extended to a maximum of 104 weeks if you were not employed in insurable employment or if you were not receiving EI benefits.
You will need between 420 and 700 hours of insurable employment based on the unemployment rate in your area during the qualifying period to qualify for regular benefits:
Look up EI Economic Region by Postal Code to find out the unemployment rate in your region and the number of hours to qualify for regular benefits.
If you received a notice of violation regarding prior EI benefit periods, the number of insurable hours required to qualify is increased.
You must accumulate 600 insurable hours to qualify for sickness, maternity, parental, compassionate care, or family caregiver benefits.
How much you can receive
It’s impossible to know the exact amount you will receive before until your application has been processed. For most people, the basic rate for calculating EI benefits is 55% of your average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount. As of January 1, 2020, the maximum yearly insurable earnings amount is $54,200. This means that you can receive a maximum amount of $573 per week.
How long you can receive EI regular benefits
You can receive EI from 14 weeks up to a maximum of 45 weeks. The exact length of time depends on two factors:
- The unemployment rate in your region at the time of filing your claim
- The number of insurable hours you have accumulated in the last 52 weeks or since your last claim, whichever is shorter.
How EI Benefits are calculated
The amount of weekly EI benefits is calculated by Service Canada as follows:
- Adds up your total insurable earnings for the required number of best weeks (the weeks in which you earned the most money, including tips and commissions) based on the information you provide and/or your Record of Employment
- Determines the divisor (number of best weeks) that corresponds to your regional rate of unemployment
- Divides your total insurable earnings for your best weeks by your required number of best weeks
- Multiplies the result by 55% to obtain the amount of your weekly benefits.
Regions with the highest unemployment rates will be calculated using the best 14 weeks, while regions with the lowest unemployment rates will be calculated using the best 22 weeks. Other regions will fall somewhere between 14 and 22 weeks, depending on their unemployment rate.
EI Family Supplement
Low income families may be eligible to receive the EI family supplement.
The family supplement rate is based on:
- your net family income up to a maximum of $25,921 per year; and
- the number of children in the family and their ages.
The family supplement may increase your benefit rate up to 80% of your average insurable earnings. If you and your spouse claim EI benefits at the same time, only one of you can receive the family supplement. It is generally better for the spouse with the lower benefit rate to receive the supplement.
As your income level rises, the Family Supplement gradually decreases, so that once the maximum income of $25,921 is reached the supplement is no longer payable.
Taxable EI benefits
It’s important to note that EI benefits are taxable, no matter what type of benefits you receive. Federal and provincial or territorial taxes, where applicable, will therefore be deducted from your payment.
Before you start your EI application
You will need the following personal information to complete the online EI application:
For EI regular benefits
- your Social Insurance Number (SIN).
- your mother’s maiden name.
- your mailing and residential addresses.
- your complete banking information to sign up for direct deposit, including the financial institution name, bank branch number, and account number
- names, addresses, dates of employment, and reason for separation for all your employers over the last 52 weeks
- your detailed version of the facts (if you quit or have been dismissed from any job in the last 52 weeks)
- the dates and earnings for each of your highest paid weeks of insurable earnings in the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is the shorter period. This information will be used, along with your Record of Employment, to calculate your benefit rate.
Be sure to sign up for direct deposit to get your payments as quickly as possible. EI payments are deposited automatically into your bank account two business days after your EI report is processed.
Note that if you did not sign up for direct deposit at the time of your EI application, you can still sign up through My Service Canada Account.
How To Apply for EI Benefits
You first must submit an application online to determine whether you are eligible to receive EI regular benefits. The application will take about 60 minutes to complete.
You will be asked for your email address when you apply for Employment Insurance benefits. If Service Canada needs more information about your claim and cannot reach you by phone, a Service Canada agent will send you a toll-free number by email, asking you to call an agent.
After you apply for EI
If you are entitled to receive EI regular benefits, you should receive your first payment within 28 days of the date your application and required documents were received.
There may be a one-week waiting period before you start receiving EI benefits. Note this waiting period has only been temporarily waived for EI sick benefits – due to COVID-19.
If you are not eligible to receive EI benefits you will be contacted by letter or telephone with an explanation. If you disagree, you have the right to request a reconsideration.
Note that while your EI claim is active, you must submit reports every two weeks to show you are still entitled to receive EI. Failure to do so can mean a loss of benefits.
An EI claim will end if:
- you receive all the weeks of benefits to which you were entitled; or
- the payment timeframe during which you can receive benefits ends; or
- you stop filing your bi-weekly report; or
- you request a termination of your claim to file a new claim.
Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits (COVID-19 Update)
Employment Insurance sickness benefits provide up to 15 weeks of income replacement. It is available to eligible claimants who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine, to allow them time to restore their health and return to work. Canadians quarantined due to COVID-19 can apply for EI sickness benefits.
If you are eligible, visit the EI sickness benefits page to apply.
Service Canada has adopted new measures to support Canadians affected by COVID-19 and placed in quarantine, with the following actions:
- The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim
- Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period
- People claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine will not have to provide a medical certificate
- People who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay
Important: If you are directly affected by COVID-19 because you are sick or quarantined and you have not yet applied for EI benefits, please submit your application first before contacting Service Canada. This will prevent delays in establishing your claim.
If you have already completed the application for EI sickness benefits whether you are sick or quarantined and would like to have the one-week waiting period waived, call the new toll-free phone number: 1-833-381-2725
Do not visit or enter any Service Canada office if you are experiencing symptoms such as cough, fever, difficulty breathing, or you are in self-isolation or quarantine.
What If You Don’t Qualify for EI?
The newly revised aid package announced by the federal government on March 25, 2020 combines two previously announced support benefits – the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit – into one new benefit:
- The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
The CERB will pay $2,000 per month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments will be made every four weeks, covering the period of March 15 – October 3.
A worker is defined as a Canadian resident who is at least 15 years old and who had an income of at least $5,000 in the last 12 months. Who is eligible?
- Canadians who have lost their job
- Canadians who are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone with COVID-19
- Canadian working parents who have to stay home without pay to take care of their children
This applies to wage earners, contract workers, and self-employed individuals who are not otherwise eligible for EI. The CERB also applies to workers who are still technically employed, but not receiving income due to disruption at work from COVID-19.
The application portal for CERB should be available in early April, and payments will start to flow 10 days after submitting an application.
Provincial support to fill in the gaps
Many provinces have also announced significant programs and measures designed to fill in the gaps or provide immediate relief to Canadians who may be faced with unemployment due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and economic shutdown.
For instance, in Alberta, there is a payment of $573 per week for a total of two weeks available for those who self-isolate. Those looking to apply can do so at Alberta.ca.
Expect other provinces and municipalities to roll-out additional measures to assist employees, self-employed and small businesses deal with this unprecedented economic shutdown.