This blog post was co-authored by Natasha Abraham, one of our 2019-2020 articling students.
On March 25, 2020, the federal government enacted legislation to create the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”). The CERB will provide income support payments to workers who suffer a loss of income for reasons related to COVID-19. The CERB will operate alongside Employment Insurance (“EI”). Below we answer some common questions about the two types of income support benefits.
The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit:
How much will the CERB provide?
The CERB is a taxable benefit and will provide $2,000 a month for up to four months to workers who lose their income as a result of COVID-19. This will be paid bi-weekly.
Who is eligible for the CERB?
In order to qualify, you must:
- be at least 15 years old
- be residing in Canada
- have had a total income of at least $5,000 in 2019, or in the 12-month period preceding the CERB application
- have stopped working because of reasons related to COVID-19 or have exhausted your EI regular benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020 or be eligible for EI regular of sickness benefits
This includes income from any of the following sources:
- self-employment (contract workers and gig-economy workers are eligible for the CERB)
- EI pregnancy benefits or EI parental benefits
- benefits under a provincial scheme that relate to pregnancy or caring for a newborn/adopted child
In order to be eligible, you cannot have earned more than $1,000 in employment and/or self-employment income for 14 or more consecutive days within the four-week benefit period of your claim. In order to re-qualify for CERB after already receiving it for an initial four-week period, the rule is slightly different: you cannot have earned more than $1,000 in employment and/or self-employment income for the entire four-week benefit period of your new claim.
Ceasing to work for “reasons related to COVID-19” could include workers who have lost their job due to COVID-19, those who are unable to work because they are in quarantine, and parents who must stay home to take care of their children due to school and daycare closures. A worker who has quit their employment voluntarily will not be eligible for the CERB. However, if a worker quits involuntarily (what is sometimes called a constructive dismissal), they could be eligible for the CERB.
What if I am working part-time or my hours have been drastically reduced? Can I apply for the CERB?
On April 15, 2020, the Prime Minister announced changes to the CERB eligibility criteria to include workers who have earned $1,000 or less in employment and/or self-employment income for 14 consecutive days within the four-week benefit period of the CERB claim.
Workers who have had their hours drastically reduced may still be eligible for the CERB if they have earned $1,000 or less in the four-week benefit period. However, the detailed rules about how this will work have not yet been published, and so there are still some questions that do not have clear answers. For example, it is not clear how the new eligibility rule here interacts with the requirement that a worker has ceased work for reasons related to COVID-19. People who have had their hours of work drastically reduced to their point where they make less than $1,000 in a 14-day period should consider applying for CERB, but they should make sure that they answer all questions on the application accurately.
I have exhausted my regular EI benefits, can I apply for the CERB?
On April 15, 2020, the federal government announced that it would extend eligibility of the CERB to include workers who have exhausted their regular EI benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020, and are unable to find a job or return to work because of COVID-19.
This expansion includes seasonal workers who have exhausted their regular EI benefits and are unable to undertake their regular seasonal work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
What period is covered by the CERB?
The government has indicated that applicants who use direct deposit should begin receiving their CERB payments within three days. If you do not have direct deposit, you should get your payment within ten days. The CERB will be available from March 15, 2020 until October 3, 2020. Workers who are still unemployed after the 16-week period covered by the CERB and who are otherwise eligible for EI regular and sickness benefits would be able to access their regular EI benefits after October 3 (more information on EI below).
How can I apply for the CERB and what documents do I need to provide?
The portal to apply for CERB opened on April 6. Depending on your circumstances, you should apply for CERB through the CRA, Service Canada, or the Employment Insurance Commission. The government has created this online tool to help individuals determine where they should apply.
The only information that you need to provide is your Social Insurance Number, your contact information, and you must confirm that you are eligible for CERB. The government may require additional documentation to verify your claim at a later date.
What if I am getting EI right now? Can I apply for the CERB?
Canadians who were already receiving EI benefits as of March 15 are not eligible to apply for the CERB.
The government has announced that workers whose application for EI is pending will not need to reapply for the CERB, as their application will automatically be transferred to the CERB system. Workers who became eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits on March 15 or onward will automatically be processed through the CERB.
I am eligible for EI benefits, but should I apply for the CERB instead?
Workers who qualify for CERB may also alternatively qualify for EI benefits, as outlined below. It appears that workers who are potentially available for both CERB and one or more types of EI may elect which benefit to apply for (however, the government has advised that those who are already receiving EI benefits will continue to receive those benefits and should not apply to the CERB).
The maximum amount Canadians can receive through EI is $573 per week, which is equivalent to slightly less than $2,300 every four weeks. For Canadians who meet the maximum insurable earnings cap of $54,200 a year, there would be an incentive to apply for EI instead of the CERB because it would be slightly more generous than CERB’s $2,000/month payment. However, every worker’s situation is different. Workers who qualify for both may want to seek professional advice about their options.
Employment Insurance Benefits
EI sickness benefits
The EI sickness benefit provides up to 55% of a worker’s pre-illness income for up to 15 weeks to a maximum of $573 per week. This is not a new benefit and does not apply specifically to COVID-19. As of March 25, the government has waived the requirement to provide a medical note to access EI benefits, including sickness benefits.
To qualify for EI sickness benefits, you must meet all of the following criteria:
- you are unable to work for medical reasons (discussed further below)
- your regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week
- you have accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the past 52 weeks
Being unable to work for “medical reasons” would definitely cover a worker who has contracted COVID-19. It may also cover workers who have been required to quarantine. The regulations state that the claimant need only provide an attestation that any of the following is true in order to be eligible for EI sickness benefits:
- a period of quarantine was imposed on the claimant under the laws of Canada or a province
- a period of quarantine was imposed on the claimant by a public health official for the health and safety of the public at large, or
- a period of quarantine was recommended by such an official for the health and safety of the public at large and that the claimant was asked by their employer, a medical doctor, a nurse or person in authority to place themselves under quarantine
In order to make the EI sickness benefit more accessible during the present crisis, the federal government has waived the one-week waiting period if the worker’s condition falls under one of the three circumstances listed above.
To summarize, if you meet all the qualifications for EI sickness benefits (i.e., accumulated 600 insured hours in the past 52 weeks) AND are sick with COVID-19 or are in a public health or employer-ordered quarantine, then you may qualify for EI sickness benefits and should consider applying.
You can apply for EI Sickness Benefits here.
Note: If you are not eligible for EI benefits, then you should apply for CERB. Click here for more information.
Regular EI Benefits
The federal government has not announced any changes to the eligibility requirements for regular EI benefits. A worker who loses their income or job due to COVID-19 related closures or lay-offs can apply for regular EI benefits if they meet the following criteria:
- they were employed in insurable employment;
- they lost their job through no fault of their own;
- they have been without work and without pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks;
- they have worked the required number of insurable employment hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of their last EI claim, whichever is shorter (more information below);
- they are ready, willing and capable of working each day;
- they are actively looking for work (they must keep a written record of employers they contact, including when they contacted them)
Regular EI benefits cover up to 55% of your earnings to a maximum of $573 a week. How much you qualify for depends on the required number of insurable hours you have worked in the last 52 weeks and the unemployment rate in the region you live in. To determine your economic region, you can search here.
Lastly, the criteria for Regular EI benefits can vary across industries (i.e. farmers, teachers, etc.), and it is important to check that all general criteria have been met.
You can apply for Regular EI benefits here.
EI Caregiving Benefits
If you are unable to work because you are taking care of a family member who has COVID-19, you may be eligible for the EI Caregiving Benefit. This benefit applies to individuals who are providing care to a family member, or someone who is considered to be like family, that is gravely ill, injured, or in need of end-of-life care.
- they are a family member (or are considered to be like family) of the person who is critically ill or injured or needing end-of-life care,
- their regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week because they need to take time away from work to provide care or support to the person
- they accumulated 600 insured hours of work in the 52 weeks before the start of their claim or since the start of their last claim, whichever is shorter
If an individual has met all the criteria, they could receive financial assistance of up to 55% of their earnings to a maximum of $573 a week.
Note: If you are not eligible for the EI Caregiving Benefit but are unable to work because you are taking care of a loved one who has COVID-19, you may be eligible for the CERB. Click here for more information.