Employment Insurance in Canada



Soma Ray-Ellis for The Lawyers Weekly

Employment Insurance (EI) is a federal program in Canada designed to provide financial assistance to Canadians who have lost their jobs. In many ways, EI is like a car insurance or home insurance policy. You must pay premiums to be entitled to benefits; the benefits you earn are linked to the premiums you pay (up to a maximum); and there is a deductible and a waiting period. Unlike normal insurance policies you don't get to negotiate these elements of your policy. EI is governed by the Employment Insurance Act R.S. 1996 c. 23, and run by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).

Eligibility in Canada

To be eligible to collect EI in Canada you must have had insured employment, you must have worked enough hours during the qualifying period, and you must have lost your employment through no fault of your own.

Most work for employers in Canada is insured. However, you may not be insured, and therefore not entitled to EI, if you work for the government of a province or foreign country, if you work for a family member, if you work for a company of which you are a large shareholder, or if you are employed on an entirely casual basis. In some cases, work for family members in Canada does qualify for Employment Insurance. You can be sure you qualify if your pay stub shows employment insurance deductions from your wages.

Assuming your employment in Canada was insured, you still may only collect Employment Insurance if you have worked enough hours in the qualifying period leading up to your claim. You will need to check online or with a local HRSDC office to determine if you qualify.

In Canada, you are only eligible if you lost your job for reasons beyond your control, for example, you were laid off or there is a shortage of work in your field. The Act also provides for employees in Canada to qualify for maternity, child care, compassionate care, and sick leave benefits. You cannot collect EI if you quit your job without cause or if you were fired for misconduct. In Canada, when you apply for EI you will need to present a Record of Employment (ROE) from your last employer: it has a code on it that will indicate the reason your employment ceased.

Benefits in Canada

In Canada, the benefit period is established by when you make your claim, so you should claim right away. Section 13 stipulates that there is a two week waiting period after qualifying before you will receive any benefits.

Because the amount you pay in is related to your income, the amount you can receive in benefits also varies according to your income.

Disentitlement to Benefits in Canada

In Canada, you are only entitled to benefits for days that you are capable and available for work. If you take a holiday, for example, you are obligated to inform HRSDC, and you are not entitled to benefits for those days. On days you are enrolled in an approved education or training course, however, you may still be considered capable and available for work.

You are obligated to look for work while unemployed and under section 27 you may be disqualified from receiving benefits in Canada if you fail to apply for suitable work or refuse to accept an offer of suitable Canadian employment. However, work that is in your field but that is at a lower wage rate or under less favourable conditions than are usual for such employment is not considered suitable employment.

Finally, HRSDC provides certain programs that are mandatory for anyone claiming Employment Insurance in Canada. Failure to attend these mandatory sessions can also disentitle you to benefits.

Penalties and Liability to Return Payments

Lying on your application, or failing to provide information that affects your claim, is an offence under the act in Canada and you may be penalized up to three weeks of benefits for such an offence. The Act also provides that offences under the act are criminal offences punishable on summary conviction by imprisonment in Canada for a term of up to six months.

You are also liable to return EI payments in Canada that were made to you if for some reason you have been overpaid. If, for example, you are collecting EI for a period of unemployment that is the subject of a labour dispute, and you win an award of wages at arbitration, you will have to pay back the EI benefits you received for the period covered by the award. Of course, if you gain employment your entitlement to benefits will cease.

Appeals in Canada

If you disagree with a determination made under the Act, in Canada, you may appeal within 30 days to the Board of Referees. A decision of the Board of Referees may be appealed within 60 days to an Umpire, who is usually a Federal Court Judge. You may want to consult a Canadian labour and employment lawyer to assist with the appeal. Such an appeal can only be made on the grounds that the Board's decision was contrary to the principles of natural justice, based on an error of Canadian law, or made on the basis of facts which were incorrect and contrary to the evidence before the board.

Soma Ray-Ellis practises in the Employment and Labour Group at Paterson, MacDougall LLP in Toronto


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