Applying for Employment Insurance Benefits

Script 282 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.

What are Employment Insurance (EI) Benefits?

Employment Insurance (EI) benefits are temporary payments to people who lose their jobs, are between jobs, or cannot work for various reasons. For example, they may be sick or looking after a sick family member. They may be pregnant or have a new baby.

The EI program is run by the federal government department of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). Its website, at www.hrsdc.gc.ca, has general information, including a link to apply online. Click on “Policies and Programs” and then on “Employment Insurance”.

For detailed information on EI, including types of benefits available, how to apply, how much and how long you can collect, how to appeal an EI decision, and theEmployment Insurance Act, check the Service Canada website at www.servicecanada.gc.ca – click on “Employment Insurance”. The “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) section is a good starting point. As well, the “Employment Insurance Digest of Benefit Entitlement Principles” is important. HRSDC uses this digest – and the law and regulations – when deciding on EI claims.

You can also call Service Canada at 1.800.206.7218.

Types of EI Benefits
The type of benefit depends on the situation.

  • Regular benefits are for people who lose their job through no fault of their own – for example, they were laid off. They have to be available and able to work but unable to find a job. 
  • Maternity and parental benefits are for people who cannot work because they are pregnant, or recently had a baby, or are adopting a child or caring for a baby.
  • Sickness benefits are for people who cannot work because they are sick, injured or quarantined.
  • Compassionate care benefits are for people who cannot work because they are away from work temporarily to care for or support a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death.
  • Fishing benefits are for self-employed fishers who are actively seeking work.

People living outside of Canada can receive benefits if their job is insured under the EI program. And starting in 2011, self-employed people (if they register and qualify) can get special benefits (maternity, parental, sickness, and compassionate care). The script has more on this later.

Can you get EI?
Regular benefits – you can get regular benefits if all the following things apply to you:

  1. You lost your job through no fault of your own, for example, you were laid off. If you quit or were fired, you may not be able to collect – it depends on why you quit or were fired. If you had a good reason to quit – for example, you were harassed – you may still be able to collect EI. You need legal advice in these types of cases. If you are taking part in a labour dispute, such as a strike or lockout, you may not be able to collect EI.
  2. You paid EI premiums when you worked.
  3. You have been without work and pay for at least 7 days in a row in the last 52 weeks.
  4. You are ready, willing and capable of working each day.
  5. You are actively looking for work – you must keep a written record of employers you contact, including when you contacted them.
  6. You worked the required number of insurable hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter. This is called the “qualifying period” and is explained in the next paragraph. The number of required hours depends on where you live and the unemployment rate in your economic region when you apply. You may need between 420 and 700 insurable hours of work in the qualifying period – unless you are new to the workforce or you’ve been out of the workforce for 2 or more years. In those cases, you may need at least 910 hours of insurable work in the qualifying period. 

    The qualifying period is the 52 weeks before the start of your claim (or the time since the start of your last claim, whichever is shorter). HRSDC can extend the qualifying period up to 104 weeks if you could not work because you were: 

    a.  ill, injured, quarantined, or pregnant, or
    b.  in jail or penitentiary, or
    c.  attending an instructional course that HRSDC sent you on.

    A longer qualifying period helps if you haven’t worked enough hours in the normal qualifying period – you can count hours you worked more than 52 weeks ago. You have to ask for an extension and show that you are in one of these categories.

    You also need at least 490 hours as a member of the labour force during the “labour force attachment period” – the 52 weeks right before the qualifying period. Being a member of the labour force means that you worked or received earnings, benefits, or compensation; participated in an approved training or other program; served a waiting period; or participated in a labour dispute.

Other benefits – different rules apply to maternity, parental, sickness, compassionate care, and fishing cases. The Service Canada website explains them.

How and when should you apply for EI?
You have to apply online (on the Service Canada website) or in person at a local Service Canada office.

Apply for EI as soon as you stop working – even if your last employer pays you severance or termination pay, when your job ends. Don’t wait until the severance period ends to apply for EI.

Don’t wait until the employer gives you your Record of Employment (ROE for short). Employers can issue the ROE electronically to Service Canada or in paper form. The ROE proves you were employed. Ask the employer how your ROE will be issued – if electronically, you don’t need a copy. If it’s a paper ROE, ask for a copy as soon as your job ends. If you worked for any other employers in the previous 52 weeks, you need an ROE from each one.

If an employer does not issue the ROE electronically or give you a paper form, the local Service Canada office can help you. You will have to fill out a form explaining how you tried to get it. You will also have to give other proof of employment, such as pay stubs, cancelled pay cheques, T4 slips, or work schedules.

If you delay in applying for EI beyond 4 weeks after your last day of work, you may lose benefits.

What information do you need to apply?

  • Your SIN (social insurance number) – if your SIN starts with a 9, you have to give proof of your immigration status and a work permit.
  • Your mother’s maiden name.
  • Your mailing and residential addresses, including postal code.
  • Your bank information for direct deposit.
  • The names, addresses, dates of employment, and reason for separation for all your employers for the last 52 weeks.
  • Your detailed version of the facts – if you quit or were fired from any job in the last 52 weeks.
  • Any dates in the last 52 weeks when you didn’t work or receive earnings, and the reason why.

Depending on your situation, you may need to provide other information:

  • If you apply in person, personal identification such as a driver’s license, birth certificate or passport.
  • If you are claiming sickness benefits, a medical certificate from your doctor.
  • If you are claiming compassionate care benefits, personal information and a medical certificate about the person you will be caring for from that person’s doctor.
  • If you are claiming parental benefits, the other parent’s SIN.
  • If you had weeks where you earned less than $225 but more than $0 or if you live in an economic region in the “Best 14 Weeks” pilot project (and you’re not apply for fishing benefits), the dates for weeks of employment in the last 52 weeks and salary before deductions.

If you are reactivating an existing claim, you may also have to provide:

  • the salary before deductions for the last week you worked, including tips and commissions.
  • any other amounts you received or will receive (for example, vacation pay, severance pay, pension payments, pay in lieu of notice, and other money).

When will you know if your EI application is approved?
If your application is approved, you should get your first payment within 28 days of when Service Canada received the application and the required documents. If your application is not approved, they will call or write you to explain why. You can appeal the decision, as this script explains later.

How long is the waiting period?
You don’t get benefits in the first 2 weeks of your claim, called the waiting period. Any income you earn then is deducted from your benefits and delays your claim. Income includes vacation pay, severance pay, retirement pay and leave credits, and most bonuses and gratuities. Retirement pensions don’t delay the start of a claim, but they are income and reduce benefits – unless you work long enough at another job, after the pension starts, to qualify for EI.

How much will you get?
Most people get 55% of their weekly average insurable earnings. The maximum as of January 1, 2012 is $485 a week. Earnings include tips and commission and are before deductions. Benefits are taxable income, so taxes are deducted.

In “designated economic regions” (listed on the Service Canada website) you get 55% of your best 14 weeks of earnings in the 52 weeks before applying (the maximum is still $485 a week). This “Best 14 Weeks” temporary measure applies until April 6, 2013. After that, the government says that the EI benefit for everyone in Canada will be based on the highest weeks of earnings over the previous year. The number of weeks in the calculation will range from 14 to 22, depending on the unemployment rate in the EI region.

You can get more if you are in a low-income family (annual income under $25,921) with children and you or your spouse receive the Canada Child Tax Benefit. Then you can get the Family Supplement (explained on the Service Canada website).

These amounts are based on Service Canada’s website as of August 2012. Rates change because they are reviewed each year, so check that website for current rates. Click “Employment Insurance” and then “Employment Insurance Regular Benefits”.

EI benefits can be reduced if you receive other income during your benefit period, including:

  • pension income from the Canada Pension Plan, the Quebec Pension Plan or a provincial pension plan.
  • pension income from employment, including military service or police work – unless you work long enough at another job, after the pension starts, to qualify for EI.
  • damages and interest for wrongful dismissal.
  • severance pay.
  • call-back pay.
  • a partial payment of an amount owed.
  • self-employment income.

But some other types of income do not affect your regular benefits, including:

  • pension payments from a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or a registered retirement income fund (RRIF).
  • disability pensions.
  • survivor or dependant benefits.
  • additional voluntary contributions to a pension fund.
  • the Old Age Security pension.
  • the part of a pension payable to a spouse in a legal separation or divorce.
  • a pension paid by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Might you have to repay some EI?
Yes. After you file your tax return, you may have to repay part of the EI benefits you received. It depends on your net income and the amount of EI benefits you received.

How long can you collect EI?
You can get EI regular benefits for a period ranging from 14 to 45 weeks. The number of weeks is based on the unemployment rate in your region and the number of insurable hours you worked in the qualifying period.

You have to claim the EI within a 52-week period, called the “benefit period”. HRSDC can extend the benefit period up to 104 weeks if you didn’t get EI for part of the period because of one of the following cases:

  • You were collecting workers’ compensation.
  • You were in jail.
  • You received severance pay.
  • Your newborn or newly adopted child was hospitalized, or you were pregnant or breastfeeding and stopped working for your child’s health (and as a result, got provincial benefits).

You have to apply to extend the benefit period – it’s not automatic. An extension does not increase the total EI you get.

Can you work and still get EI regular and other benefits?
Yes. You can work part-time while receiving regular, fishing, parental, and compassionate care benefits. You must report anything you earn while you get EI. Under a new pilot project called, “Working While on Claim”, you can keep 50 cents of your EI benefits for every dollar you earn, up to 90% of your weekly insurable earnings. The 90% amount is called the earnings threshold. Any amount that you earn above the threshold is deducted from your benefits. This new pilot project runs from August 5, 2012 to August 1, 2015.

These amounts can change, so check the Service Canada website for current figures.

You can’t work full-time and receive benefits.

Can you leave Canada temporarily and still get EI regular benefits?
Usually, you cannot receive regular benefits while you are out of Canada. But you can receive regular benefits if you show that you are available for work in Canada while abroad, and you tell your local Service Canada Centre that you will be away temporarily.

You can be outside Canada for up to 7 consecutive days to do one of the following things:

  • 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 sought is not readily available where the family member lives in Canada.
  • visit a member of your immediate family who is seriously ill or injured.
  • attend a bona fide (legitimate) job interview.

You can also be outside of Canada for up to 14 days in a row for a legitimate job search.

Can you work or live outside Canada and still get EI?
If you work outside Canada for a Canadian company or the Canadian government, you are usually eligible for EI, but not if your job is covered by a similar program in the country you are working in.

If you live outside Canada, you may be eligible for some types of EI in certain cases. You may also be eligible if you live in Canada or the United States and regularly cross the Canada/U.S. border between your home and workplace.

The Service Canada website has details on these cases.

What must you do while you get EI regular benefits?
File a report every 2 weeks with HRSDC (on the internet, or by phone or mail) to show your are still eligible to receive benefits. The report must say if you:

  • were outside Canada during the report period.
  • worked or received earnings, including earnings from self-employment.
  • started a full-time job.
  • attended school or a training course.
  • were ready, willing and capable of working each day.
  • received or will receive any other money.

Check the Service Canada website for what to do if you get other types of benefits.

Can you get EI if you are self-employed?
Yes, as of January 2011, self-employed people can get EI special benefits in some cases. Special benefits consist of maternity, parental, sickness, and compassionate care benefits. To be eligible, self-employed people must:

  • be Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
  • register with the government (by signing an agreement).
  • operate their own business or work for a corporation but can’t get EI benefits because they control more than 40% of the corporation’s voting shares.
  • wait 12 months after registering.

Then, in some cases – described on the Service Canada website – they get special benefits.

Is other EI help available?
Starting in July 2010, Canadian Forces members’ eligibility (benefit) period was extended by one week for every week they could not collect all their parental benefits (in the regular eligibility period) because military service interrupted their parental leave. Details are on the Service Canada website, under the “Employment Insurance Initiatives” section.

Can you appeal an EI decision?
Yes – you can appeal EI decisions. Employers can also appeal decisions. There is a 30-day time limit to file an appeal. There are 3 appeal levels:

  • First and most important, you can appeal to the Board of Referees. Put all your evidence and effort into this first appeal. Get legal advice early in the appeal process – before any hearing.
  • Next, you can appeal to an Umpire – but only in certain cases.
  • Last, you can ask the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review – but only if there is a clear and obvious error in the Umpire’s decision. You would need legal help to do this.

To file an appeal, print and complete the appeal form on the Service Canada appeal website (www.ei.gc.ca) or write to your local Service Canada office within 30 days of when you get the decision. The appeal website explains what information you must provide, including your reasons for appealing. 

[updated August 2012]


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