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.
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.
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
You should apply for EI as soon as you stop working. If you delay, you may lose benefits.
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 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.
Who can help
This federal government agency helps people access the employment insurance program.
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consultation.
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in March 2020
Time to read: 5 minutes