A quick guide to EI benefits

January 7, 2013

Worrying about making ends meet when you’re out of work is a major stress factor for many people. Luckily, Employment Insurance (EI) gives financial security to some unemployed workers. In addition to regular benefits the program offers assistance to workers who have a baby, adopt a child or are providing care for a seriously ill relative.

How do I qualify for regular EI benefits?
Generally, you qualify if you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own and have worked between 420 and 700 hours in the qualifying period (most new entrants or re-entrants to the workforce need to rack up 910 hours before they qualify, however). As well, you must look for a job every day that you receive regular EI and you must also be able to prove that you are conducting a “reasonable job search” and that you accept all offers of “suitable employment".

Service Canada advises the following: “Document all of these job search efforts for the entire duration of your claim. This includes the date, names of employers you have contacted and their contact information, the type of work you were looking for and the results. Keep this information in a safe place. We may ask you to provide us with this information within six years of your claim." Also, keep in mind that if requested you must attend a claimant information session where you provide documentation showing that you have performed at least five job search activities per week (resumé-writing, going on a job interview, etc.). If you do not show up or do not provide proof of your job search your EI claim will stop within 24 hours.

How do I apply for EI?
You can apply for EI online or at your local Service Canada office. Do it as soon as possible after your final day at work — if you wait more than four weeks after your last day you may lose benefits. (If you have filed a previous EI claim within the last 52 weeks, call 1-800-206-7218 to speak to a Service Canada agent about reactivating your old claim.) Make sure to get a Record of Employment (ROE) from your employer as you'll need it to apply. If you are having problems an agent can advise you how you can obtain your ROE.

What should I do if there’s a delay with my benefits?
If you have spoken to a Service Canada agent and they were unable to help you consider filing a complaint with the Office for Client Satisfaction (1-866-506-6806), which deals with feedback about the quality of service received from Service Canada.

How much money will I get?
The basic benefit rate is 55 per cent of your average insured earnings up to a yearly insurable amount of $45,900. (It will increase to $47,400 in 2013.) The maximum you can receive now is $485 per week (gross), which will rise to just over $500 next year. If you've got a family you may also be in luck. Claimants with children who have a family net income less than $25,921 could be eligible for the family supplement. If you are eligible for this, your entitlement will automatically be added to your EI payment. As well, if you were working irregular hours in your last job take heart. EI now excludes earnings from "small weeks" (earnings of less than $225) when calculating the benefit rate. This results in EI payments that are larger than they would otherwise have been. In addition, if you live in certain economic regions, including Oshawa and Windsor in southern Ontario, the method of calculating your weekly benefit rate is based on the best 14 weeks of insurable earnings over the last 52 weeks of work. Note that beginning April 7, 2013, this approach will be applied across Canada and the number of weeks used in the calculation will range from 14 to 22, depending on the unemployment rate in your particular EI region.

How long can I receive EI?
You can receive regular EI benefits for 14 to 45 weeks, the number of weeks depending on the unemployment rate in your region and on the number of hours of insurable employment that you accumulated during your qualifying period. Note that there is a two-week waiting period before you start receiving EI.

Can I get benefits if I'm self-employed?
Self-employed persons will be eligible for maternity, parental, sickness benefits and compassionate care benefits if they registered to participate in the EI program.

Can I Get EI If I Quit My Job or Was Fired
If you quit your job because you don't feel like getting up in the morning or are fired for misconduct, such as coming to work drunk, you'll be out of luck. You might be eligible for sickness, maternity and/or parental benefits, though, and if you quit your job for a solid reason, you could still qualify for regular EI. The following examples are considered just cause for quitting:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Working conditions that endanger health or safety
  • Excessive overtime
  • Major changes in work duties
  • Following a spouse or partner to another residence

If you decide to apply for EI after quitting or being fired you will have to supply a detailed version of facts. You can always appeal the decision within 30 days if you are denied EI.

Can I earn money on EI?
Yes, you can earn money if you're receiving regular, parental, compassionate care or fishing EI benefits. As of Aug.5, 2012, a new Working While on Claim pilot project was initiated in which EI recipients with employment income can keep 50 per cent of all their earnings while on claim. As of Jan. 6, 2013, EI recipients who were working while on claim between Aug. 7, 2011 and Aug. 4, 2012 will have the option of reverting to rules that existed under a previous pilot project in which the government clawed back 100 per cent of earnings over $75 or 40 per cent. (For more details on this, see this Changes to EI Working While on Claim Pilot Project item.)

The amount of your EI benefits can also be reduced if you receive other income during your benefit period, including damages for wrongful dismissal or self-employment. But some income has no effect on your regular benefits, including disability benefits or Old Age Security pension. (Check out this chart to find out if a particular income will be deducted.) As well, money or payments that are unrelated to employment are not considered earnings. So, if you win the lottery or get an inheritance, don't worry — you can keep it all.

Can I volunteer and receive EI?
Yes, you can walk dogs for the Toronto Humane Society or visit people at an old folks' home — as long as you are still available for and actively looking for work every day. “Each case is assessed based on the circumstances of the individual, including the time devoted to volunteering and the claimant’s personal efforts to find employment,” according to an email from Human Resources Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).

Can I get EI if I have a baby or adopt a child?
Yes, if you have a baby you are eligible for 15 weeks of maternity benefits if you have worked 600 insurable hours. You cannot receive EI maternity benefits more than 17 weeks after the week you were expected to give birth or the week you actually gave birth, whichever is later. You can start collecting benefits up to eight weeks before you are expected to give birth. (Although the workload will surely expand if you have triplets, the number of weeks you are eligible for EI benefits won't increase if you have multiple births.) You and your partner can also apply for the 35-week parental benefits while caring for a newborn or an adopted child. Parental benefits can be claimed by one parent or shared between both partners to a combined maximum of 35 weeks. Adoptive parents can receive benefits from the date the child is placed with them. Note: To be eligible for EI parental benefits, each parent who applies for benefits must have accumulated at least 600 hours of insurable employment in his or her qualifying period. You are able to receive EI maternity or parental benefits and other types of EI special benefits in the same benefit period.

Can I get EI if I am too ill to work?
You can receive sickness benefits for up to 15 weeks if you're injured or ill, your earnings have been decreased by more than 40 per cent, and you have worked 600 insurable hours. You need to provide a medical certificate stating how long your illness is expected to last. As long as you advise Service Canada, you can collect sickness benefits outside Canada if you are receiving medical treatment you can't obtain here. (If you have a severe illness or disability that looks like it is going to be long-term, consider applying for Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits.) If you get sick while on parental leave you will be able to collect sickness benefits under new legislation introduced September, 2012, according to this CBC.ca article. You can either pause your parental leave to take the sickness leave or take the sickness leave once the parental leave is up.

What if I have to care for my ill mother, father, brother or child?
You can get up to six weeks of compassionate care benefits if you need to take time off work to care for an ill relative who is expected to die within 26 weeks. Your earnings have been decreased by more than 40 per cent, and you have worked 600 insurable hours. You can also receive benefits to care for a friend or neighbour who considers you like a family member. A signed compassionate care benefits attestation form is required from the gravely ill person or their legal representative.

The above-mentioned CBC article also notes that the federal government new legislation includes a new EI benefit for parents who need to take time off work to care for seriously ill children. The new benefit would provide income support for up to 35 weeks to parents or legal guardians of minor children with a life-threatening illness or injury. Once implemented, it could be combined with the existing compassionate care benefit.

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Poss.ca is a free online magazine to help Toronto job seekers find work. An initiative of Findhelp Information Services, poss.ca is an Employment Ontario project funded in part by the Government of Canada.

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