Despite your best intentions, events may happen in your life that prevent you from being able to work for a period of time. It could be something exciting like the arrival of a newborn baby, but it could also be an unexpected layoff or severe illness. To help, Canada has an Employment Insurance benefit program that provides financial assistance during periods of unemployment.
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What is Employment Insurance?
Employment Insurance, or EI, is a benefit program offered to Canadians in the labour force who are not currently working.
There are several reasons why you may apply for EI. Typically, the program is used by individuals who are unemployed and are looking for work or to upgrade their skills to gain employment.
The EI program also has benefits for individuals who are not working due to certain life events including illness, caring for a baby or newly adopted child, caring for a family member who is seriously ill with a significant risk of death, or a critically ill or injured person.
EI is not the same as the Canada Recovery Benefit program, or CRB, which is for individuals who are directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but are not eligible for EI.
How to qualify for EI
Ei eligibility has changed quite a bit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, you must meet the following requirements to qualify for regular EI benefits following a job loss:
- You had insurable employment.
- You lost your job through no fault of your own (can also include being affected by natural disasters).
- You have been without work and pay for at least seven consecutive days within the last 52 weeks.
- You have worked for the required number of insurable employment hours in the last 52 weeks OR since the start of your last EI claim.
- You are willing, capable, and ready to work.
- You can prove that you are actively looking for work.
You may not be eligible for regular EI benefits if the following are true:
- You voluntarily left your job without cause.
- You were dismissed from your job for misconduct.
- You are unemployed because you are participating in a labour dispute such as a strike or lockout.
- You have not paid into the EI program.
- You are in jail, a penitentiary, or other similar institution.
In addition to financial support during unemployment, there other types of EI benefits you may qualify for, including maternity and parental benefits, sickness benefits, benefits for self-employed individuals and caregiving benefits. Each of these programs have their own eligibility criteria.
If you meet eligibility criteria for EI benefits, you will be required to complete bi-weekly reports either online or by phone to prove your continued eligibility. Should you not complete these reports, you may lose your EI benefits.
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How to apply for EI
The EI program utilizes an online application. It is a step-by-step process with instructions provided along the way. If you don’t have internet access or a device that will allow you to complete the application online, you can use a public access site, such as a library computer, or a kiosk at the nearest Service Canada office. Most people take about an hour to complete the application.
Once completed, you will be asked for your email address in case Service Canada needs more information from you and is unable to reach you by phone. It’s also advised to set up and review your direct deposit information. This way, if you are approved for EI, you will start receiving your payments as quickly as possible.
How much EI will I receive?
There is no flat base rate for EI; everyone receives a different amount depending on their circumstances.
A basic formula you can use to estimate your benefit is 55% of your average insurable weekly earnings. That being said, there is a limit on the amount you can receive based on the maximum yearly insurable earnings which, as of January 1, 2021, is $56,300. As such, the maximum EI benefit is currently $595 per week.
The length of time for which you are eligible to receive EI benefits also varies. It depends on the unemployment rate in the region in which you live as well as the insurable hours you’ve accumulated during the last 52 weeks or since your last claim (whatever is shorter). You can receive EI up to a maximum of 45 weeks.
If your household income is under $25,921 per year and you or your spouse receives the Canada Child Benefit, you may also be eligible to receive the EI family supplement. This supplement can increase your benefit dramatically. Only one spouse can claim the family benefit at a time, so it typically recommended that the spouse with the lower income apply for the supplement.
It’s also important to note that no matter how much or what type of benefits you receive, your EI benefits are considered taxable, and are subject to federal and provincial/territorial taxes. These taxes will be deducted from your payment where applicable.
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What if I don’t qualify for EI?
If you don’t meet the qualification requirements there may still be other benefit programs available.
The Government of Canada website has an online benefit finder where you can search for additional programs available to Canadian workers based on where you live, your age, whether or not you are affected by COVID-19, your health situation and more. You can find the benefit finder here and fill out the questionnaire to see what other benefit programs may be available to you.