In Canada, the government offers financial support to people who are without work. Learn whether you are eligible for Employment Insurance benefits, and the steps to apply for benefits.
Understand your legal rights
Employment Insurance benefits are temporary payments made to people who lose their job through no fault of their own. EI, as it’s often called, also offers help if you can’t work because of illness or injury. And it provides benefits for people who take time off to have a baby or care for family members who are ill or injured.
The EI program is run by the federal government department Employment and Social Development Canada. For detailed information on EI, including eligibility for various types of benefits and how to apply, see canada.ca/ei or call Service Canada at 1-800-206-7218.
EI regular benefits are for people who lose their job through no fault of their own — for example, they were laid off. They must be available and able to work but unable to find a job.
In addition, there are other types of EI benefits available, including:
- Maternity and parental benefits are for people who can’t work because they are pregnant, recently had a baby, are adopting a child, or are caring for a baby.
- Sickness benefits are for people who can’t work because they are sick, injured, or quarantined.
- Family caregiver benefits are for people who can’t work because they’ve stepped away to care for or support a critically ill or injured family member.
- Compassionate care benefits are for people who can’t work because they’ve stepped away to care for or support a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death within six months.
- Benefits for parents of critically ill children are for eligible parents who take time off work to care for their critically ill or injured child.
- Fishing benefits are for self-employed fishers who are actively seeking work.
Under the law in Canada, you may qualify for “regular benefits” under Employment Insurance if all of the following apply to you:
- You paid into Employment Insurance as a worker.
- You worked for the minimum number of hours during the “qualifying period”. The qualifying period is the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter. The minimum number of hours is between 420 and 700 hours, depending on where you live.
- You lost your job through no fault of your own. (You will not qualify for EI benefits if you quit your last job, unless you can prove you quit for a good reason.)
- You’ve been without work and pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks.
- You’ve run out of any vacation or severance pay you received.
- You are ready, willing and capable of working, and are actively looking for work.
The qualifying period can be extended up to 104 weeks if you couldn’t work because you were ill, injured, or pregnant (among other reasons). A longer qualifying period helps if you haven’t worked enough hours in the normal qualifying period. You have to ask for an extension.
The Service Canada website at canada.ca/ei explains who qualifies for the various other types of EI benefits, and how to apply.
The amount of Employment Insurance you receive is determined by how much you’ve been earning and where you live. For most people, the basic rate for calculating EI benefits is 55% of your average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount. The maximum amount changes over time. Check the Service Canada website for the current figure.
In calculating your EI benefits, the government considers your gross earnings (before deductions), including tips and commissions. EI benefits are taxable income, so taxes are deducted.
EI benefits are based on your highest weeks of earnings over the qualifying period (usually 52 weeks). Your benefits are calculated over a set number of weeks. That number can range from 14 to 22 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate in your region.
You can get more if you are in a low-income family or otherwise qualify for a family supplement.
Your benefits may be reduced if you earn certain income
Your EI benefits may be reduced if you earn other types of income during your benefit period. These include:
- Pension income from the Canada Pension Plan or a provincial pension plan.
- Pension income from employment (unless you’ve worked at another job long enough, after the pension starts, to qualify for EI).
- Money awarded by a court for wrongful dismissal.
- Severance pay.
- “Callback pay”, which is money your employer pays you to come back to work for a short period after your employment has ended.
- Self-employment income.
Other types of income won’t lower your EI benefits
You can earn other types of income without having your EI benefits reduced. These include pension income from an RRSP or RRIF, the Old Age Security pension, or disability benefits.
Apply for EI benefits
Before applying for Employment Insurance benefits, collect all the documents and information you’ll need. These include:
- your Social Insurance Number
- your personal identification (for example, your driver’s licence or passport)
- your bank information for direct deposit
- details of your most recent employment (including your salary and other benefits)
- your detailed version of the circumstances of your leaving your job
- your Record of Employment (ROE), a document that proves you were employed (you will need an ROE from each employer you worked for in the previous 52 weeks)
If you are claiming sickness benefits or benefits to allow you to care for someone, you’ll need to obtain a medical certificate in support.
You should apply for EI benefits as soon as you stop working. You can apply for benefits even if you receive money when you leave your job, and even if you have not yet received your Record of Employment. If you delay applying for more than four weeks after your last day of work, you may lose benefits.
You must apply for EI using an online application form. You can fill it out:
If your application for EI benefits is approved, there may be a one-week “waiting period” for which you will not be paid.
If your application is denied, Service Canada will contact you by letter or phone to explain why. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to ask for a reconsideration.
If your application for EI benefits is denied, your first step to challenge the decision is to request a reconsideration. There is no cost to do this. You must submit your request to Service Canada within 30 days from when the decision was sent to you. If you miss the deadline, you must provide a reason why.
To request a reconsideration, fill out the online request for reconsideration form. Once you’ve filled it out, print, sign and mail the form to your regional Service Canada office noted on the form.
If you disagree with the decision made on your request for reconsideration, you can appeal to the Social Security Tribunal. This is a body similar to a court that hears appeals on pensions and benefits provided by the federal government.
You must submit your appeal within 30 days of receiving the reconsideration decision. The appeal must be in the prescribed form. Service Canada has more information about how to appeal on its website.
The tribunal will consider your appeal. They may hold a hearing, which could happen by teleconference, in person, or in writing. The tribunal will make a decision on your appeal and send you the decision in writing.
If you disagree with the tribunal’s decision on your appeal, you can ask for “leave” (permission) to make a further appeal to the Appeal Division of the Social Security Tribunal.
Yes, up to a point. If you earn money while receiving EI benefits, you can keep 50 cents of your benefits for every dollar you earn, up to 90% of your previous weekly earnings (roughly four and a half days of work). Above this cap, your EI benefits are deducted dollar-for-dollar.
You must report any income you earn while you’re receiving EI. You need to submit your report and declare your earnings online each week.
You are not eligible to receive EI benefits if you work a full week, regardless of the amount you earn.
Yes. Under the law in Canada, self-employed workers can get special benefits in some cases. To be eligible, you must:
- be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident,
- register with the government (by signing an agreement),
- operate your own business, or work for a corporation but control more than 40% of the voting shares, and
- wait 12 months after registering.
There are six types of EI special benefits available to self-employed workers. The Service Canada website describes them in detail, and has instructions on how to apply.
While you are receiving EI benefits, you must submit a report every two weeks to show you’re still eligible to receive benefits. You can submit your report:
Yes. After you file your income 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.
In some circumstances, you can leave Canada and still receive Employment Insurance benefits.
While traveling abroad, your EI benefits won’t be interrupted if you’re outside of Canada for up to seven consecutive days to do one of the following:
- 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 isn’t available where they live in Canada.
- Visit a member of your immediate family who is seriously ill or injured.
- Attend a job interview.
You can also be outside of Canada for up to 14 days in a row if you’re looking for a job.
Typically, if you work outside of Canada for a Canadian company or the Canadian government, you’re eligible for EI benefits. However, you can’t collect EI benefits if your job is covered by a similar program in the country you’re working in.
If you live outside Canada, you may be eligible for some types of EI in certain cases. As well, you may be eligible if you live in Canada or the US and regularly cross the Canada/US border between your home and workplace.
The Service Canada website has more information about EI for workers and residents outside of Canada.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in June 2018
Time to read: 9 minutes