COVID-19: This article only addresses regular employment insurance (EI) benefits. The changes to employment insurance due to COVID-19 concern primarily the EI sickness benefit. To learn more, please consult our guide on the subject or the Canadian government’s website.
Employment insurance (often called unemployment insurance) is financial protection in case of the loss of a job. A person can receive employment insurance benefits for a period of time and under some conditions. This article is about regular employment insurance benefits. These benefits are usually given to people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Do I qualify for regular benefits from employment insurance?
You must meet the following conditions to qualify for regular employment insurance benefits:
- You lost your job through no fault of your own. Generally, this means that you were not fired for misconduct, nor did you choose to leave your job. To find out more about misconduct, visit the Service Canada website. In certain cases, you may qualify for employment insurance even if you chose to leave your job. (See the question “Can I qualify for employment insurance benefits even though I left my job?”)
- You are out of work, and have not been paid for at least seven consecutive days.
- You must have worked in a job that is considered “insurable employment”. (See the question “What is insurable employment?”)
- You must have worked the minimum number of hours in insurable employment during your qualifying period. (See the question, “How many hours of work do I need to qualify for employment insurance?”) You must be able to work and available for work, but unable to find a suitable new job.
Can I qualify for employment insurance benefits even though I left my job?
You can only qualify for employment insurance benefits if you can show that, given your situation, leaving your job was the only reasonable option available. There are situations in which leaving a job is the only reasonable option. Here are some examples:
- being sexually harassed at work
- dangerous working conditions
- an employer who puts a lot of pressure on an employee to quit
- an employee having to move to another city with a spouse because the spouse found work there
What is insurable employment?
To qualify for employment insurance, you must have worked in a job that is considered insurable employment. Generally, insurable employment is work under the authority of an employer in Canada. You must work for an employer who controls your wages, hours and tasks.
Contact your local Service Canada office if you think your job is insurable employment and employment insurance premiums are not being taken from your paycheque. Click here to find your local Service Canada office.
If you don’t know whether your job is considered insurable employment, contact the Canada Revenue Agency.
How many hours of work do I need to qualify for employment insurance?
The minimum number of hours of insurable work you need to qualify for employment insurance depends on the unemployment rate in your area. The higher the unemployment rate, the lower the required number of hours. Usually, you need between 420-700 hours during your qualifying period.
Your qualifying period is usually the 52 weeks before employment insurance is paid. But your qualifying period could be shorter if you already received employment insurance in the last year. Or your qualifying period could be longer if you couldn’t work for part of the year because you were pregnant or sick for example.
The minimum number of hours you need to work is higher if, in the past, you broke certain rules about receiving employment insurance benefits.
How to Calculate Your Insurable Hours
You can add together all the hours you have worked at different insurable jobs across Canada during the qualifying period. For example, because unemployment in the area where Mark lives is at 10%, Mark needs to have worked 560 hours in the last 52 weeks to qualify for employment insurance. In the past year, Mark worked several part-time jobs at a high school and hardware store, and in local parks. Now he cannot find any work. Mark can add together the hours he worked for these different employers to see if he worked at least 560 hours.
How and when do I apply for employment insurance benefits?
You must provide all the information required by Service Canada, including information relating to your job (record of employment) and why you stopped working. Check with Service Canada to find out what documents you need to apply for employment insurance benefits. You will also have to provide your social insurance number.
It is a good idea to apply for employment insurance benefits as soon as possible. If you wait, you might lose part or all of the benefits you are entitled to.
When will I receive employment insurance benefits and how much will I be paid?
If you qualify for employment insurance benefits, a benefit period is established for you. The benefit period is the period of time during which you can receive employment insurance benefits. You can receive benefits for each week of unemployment that falls in the benefit period.
Each person’s situation is different, so the length of the benefit period can be different for different people. See the question “How long can I get employment insurance benefits?”
In general, your benefits period starts on the later of
- the Sunday of the week in which you stopped working, or
- the Sunday of the week in which you apply for employment insurance benefits.
Once your benefit period starts, you must usually wait one week before you will be eligible for employment insurance benefits. It’s a little like the deductible for other types of insurance.
The amount of weekly benefits you receive depends on how much you were paid before becoming unemployed. Check with Service Canada or Employment and Social Development Canada to find out the amount of your benefit. Click here to find your local Service Canada office.
People from low-income families with children may receive an additional amount of money.
How long does employment insurance last?
You can get benefits for each week of unemployment during your benefit period, up to a maximum number of weeks, beyond which you cannot receive employment insurance benefits.
The maximum number of weeks is usually between 14 and 45 weeks. It depends on how many hours you worked in insurable employment during your qualifying period and the rate of unemployment in your region. The more you worked in insurable employment during your qualifying period, or the higher the unemployment rates in your region, the longer you are likely to receive benefits.
Are there rules to follow once I start receiving employment insurance?
Yes. At all times, you must be able to show that
- you are able and available to work but cannot find a suitable job (Service Canada explains in detail what constitutes suitable employment), or
- you are unable to work due to illness, injury, being in quarantine, or jury duty.
You must be able and available to work.
Your obligation to be able and available to work could mean you cannot travel because you would then be unavailable for work. You are not entitled to receive employment insurance benefits for any working day on which you are unavailable.
Usually, you are also not entitled to receive any employment insurance benefits for time spent outside Canada. The law makes certain exceptions, for example, when you must leave the country to receive medical treatment that isn’t readily available where you live, or to attend the funeral of a family member.
Being available for work might also mean that you can’t go back to school. But some federal government programs might let you return to school while continuing to receive benefits. To learn more, see the Service Canada website.
Looking for a Suitable Job
Unless you have a good reason not to do so, you must generally do the following:
- apply for a suitable job that becomes vacant
- accept a suitable job offered to you
- take advantage of any opportunities to get a suitable job
- follow any instructions from the Canada Employment Insurance Commission to help you find a suitable job
- attend any interview the Canada Employment Insurance Commission asks you to attend to help you find a suitable job or to see if you need any job training
- attend and complete any course or training program the Commission asks you to attend and that you agreed to attend
You can lose your employment insurance benefits for a period of time if you don’t respect these obligations.
You might have to submit reports to Service Canada showing that you are respecting your obligations.
It is a good idea to check with the people handling your employment insurance file to find out about any other specific obligations you may have.
What happens if I lie or don’t respect the rules?
You can receive a warning or a penalty or lose your right to benefits for a period of time if you knowingly lie or don’t fulfill your obligations (for example, if you don’t report income you are earning through a part-time job while receiving employment insurance benefits).
If you don’t follow the rules, the rules might be stricter the next time you apply for employment insurance benefits. For example, you might have to work more hours in your qualifying period if you lied while trying to collect employment insurance in the past.
You might have to pay back any employment insurance benefits that Employment and Social Development Canada decides you were not entitled to.
You can also be charged with a crime if you don’t respect your obligations or you lie. If you are found guilty, you can be fined or imprisoned for up to six months.
Do I have to pay tax on employment insurance benefits?
Yes. Employment insurance benefits are taxed because they are considered to be income you earn. Taxes have to be paid on your benefits, and as with any job, you could owe money at tax time depending on how much you make in a year. You will receive a T4E (tax receipt) for any year in which you received employment insurance benefits and you need to file this with your tax return.
Can I collect employment insurance while working a few hours a week?
You can work and still collect employment insurance. But your benefits will be reduced by the amount you earn. If you are collecting employment insurance, you must report any money you earn from a job, even if you are not earning a lot.
You should know that pilot projects from the federal government might let you keep collecting employment insurance even if you have started working. Visit Service Canada’s website to learn more.
If I receive employment insurance, do I still have to pay child support?
Yes. Your employment insurance benefits are a part of your income and they can be used to pay child support.
How can I consult my employment insurance file? Is the information in my file protected?
You can access a lot of the information about your file electronically on the Service Canada website.
Generally, you can access any of your personal information held by Employment and Social Development Canada if the information
- is relevant to your application for employment insurance benefits,
- is about the employment insurance benefits you are receiving, or
- is relevant to any other issue that affects you with respect to the employment insurance program.
You can write to Employment and Social Development Canada to request the information.
Your personal information is protected. This means it is generally confidential. But your personal information can be shared with the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, Employment and Social Development Canada or with another person or organization involved with the employment insurance program. Occasionally, if there is a reason to do so, your personal information can also be shared with other organizations, including federal government departments, provincial governments, or foreign governments. Customs Canada, Revenu Québec and Aide financière aux études (an organization that provides financial assistance to students) are all organizations that can exchange information with the Canada Employment Insurance Commission.
Your information will not be made available to anyone else except under very rare circumstances in which the public interest requires it. Your information can also be used by the government for statistical purposes.