In Canada, the government offers financial assistance to people who are without work. Learn whether you are eligible for employment insurance benefits, and the steps to apply for EI benefits.

Alert!

The federal government has adjusted some of the rules around employment insurance and related benefits to help workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We have placed several alerts in the information below. For how EI benefits and emergency benefits intersect, see our in-depth coverage of coronavirus and benefits for workers.

What you should know

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 work to have or parent a child, or to care for family members who are ill or injured.

The EI program is run by the federal government.

EI regular benefits are for people who lose their job through no fault of their own — for example, you were laid off.

There are also other types of EI benefits available.

  • Maternity and parental benefits are for people who can’t work because they’re 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’re ill, 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.

Alert!

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) is available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The CERB benefit is available to those who are eligible for EI and those not covered by EI (such as the self-employed). Find out about the CERB benefit.

To qualify for EI regular benefits, you must:

  • in the last 52 weeks, have worked a minimum number of hours in work covered by the EI program
  • have lost your job through no fault of your own (you won’t qualify if you were fired for misconduct or chose to quit when you had other options)
  • have gone seven straight days without work or pay from a particular employer

The federal government website goes through these requirements in more detail. They also explain who qualifies for the other types of EI benefits. See canada.ca/ei.

The amount of EI you get depends on the type of EI benefit, how much you’ve been earning, and where you live.

For most people, the basic rate for calculating EI regular benefits is 55% of your pay, up to a maximum amount. The maximum amount changes over time. The federal government posts the current figure. See their website.

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.

Your benefits may be reduced if you earn certain types of income during your benefit period. For example, severance pay. Other types of income won’t reduce your benefits, such as pension income from an RRSP or RRIF.

The federal government provides a full list of income types, and how they affect EI benefits. See their EI earnings chart.

You can work part-time and still get EI. Under the working while on claim rules, you keep 50 cents of EI benefits for every dollar you earn in wages, up to a maximum amount.

Apply for EI benefits

Collect all the documents and information you’ll need. These include:

  • your social insurance number
  • your government-issued ID
  • details of your most recent employment, including your salary and why you left
  • your record of employment (ROE), which is a form the employer prepares saying how long you worked for them and how much you earned

Alert!

The federal government has introduced the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) to help those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The government is advising everyone applying for federal benefits, whether CERB or EI, to start the application on the CERB portal.

You should apply for EI as soon as you stop working. If you delay, you may lose benefits.

Alert!

Workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic who have applied for EI sickness benefits are eligible to have the one-week waiting period for benefits waived. Once you’ve filed your application, call the coronavirus EI hotline at 1-833-381-2725 (toll-free).

If your application is approved, there may be a one-week waiting period for which you won’t be paid.

If your application is denied, Service Canada will contact you by letter or phone to explain why.

If your application is denied, your first step to challenge the decision is to request a reconsideration. There is no cost to do this.

If you disagree with the decision made on your reconsideration request, you can appeal to the Social Security Tribunal. This is a body similar to a court. It hears appeals on pensions and benefits provided by the federal government.

We have more detail on these steps if you want to go further. See our in-depth information on applying for EI.

Who can help

Service Canada

This federal government agency helps people access the employment insurance program.

Call 1-800-206-7218
Visit website

Lawyer Referral Service

Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consultation.

Call 1-800-663-1919
Visit website

Access Pro Bono Clinics

Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.

Call 1-877-762-6664
Visit website

People’s Law School

See more options for free or low-cost legal help.

Visit website

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

Reviewed in March 2020

Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Trevor Thomas, Kent Employment Law

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

Related

From People’s Law School

On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Getting Fired or Laid Off in the section on Work.