Employment Insurance (EI) in BC

Employment Insurance (EI) is what Canada calls their unemployment insurance. It is available to those who have paid into the system through EI premiums/contributions, have enough insurable hours to make a claim, and lost their job through no fault of their own (usually layoff or shortage of work).

Canada’s Employment Insurance pays a weekly benefit rate based on your earnings in the past 26 weeks, and can pay up to 45 weeks of benefits based on your insurable hours from the past 52 weeks.

Basically, the more hours you've worked and the more money you've earned, the more you'll receive while on an EI claim. See frequently asked questions on Service Canada’s website.

There are several types of benefits, all of which are considered employment insurance. It is suggested that if you even think you may need EI, to check Service Canada’s website and further research which type of benefit applies to you.

Types of Employment Insurance in Canada

Regular EI Benefits. For those who lose their job, often due to shortage of work, seasonal or mass layoff, and even being fired or quitting.

› Sickness EI Benefits. For those who are unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine.

› Maternity & Parental EI benefits. Provide benefits to women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, newly adopting parents, or parents caring for a newborn.

Compassionate Care EI Benefits. Provide benefits for those who are providing care or support to an ill family member at significant risk of death.

Fishing Benefits. For self-employed fishers actively seeking work.

Applying for EI in Canada – When to Do It and When You’ll Receive It

You have lost your job or are in a position whereby you can’t work and want to know if you’re eligible to receive EI in Canada.

To know for sure, you must apply for EI benefits online through Service Canada’s website. Only after your claim has been processed can your eligibility be determined.

This is important because if you delay in applying for employment insurance because you think you won't qualify, but apply later, it could affect your entitlement and payment.

When to Apply for EI

Make sure you submit your EI application within 28 days from your last day of work. If you apply after this timeframe Service Canada will not back-pay you to your last day of work. If you’re weeks or months late in applying, you have to make a backdated request with an agent and show just cause for every day you failed to make an application.

In order for Service Canada to process a claim in a timely manner, it’s best to apply for EI the day after your last day of work, and let Service Canada sort out what else is needed. Once your EI application is made and all Records Of Employment (ROEs) from your work experience in the past year are submitted, you've done everything you need! Let Service Canada do the rest.

Note: If you’re applying for EI sickness benefits, the only extra thing you need to submit is a medical note attesting to your period of incapacity. This should be a medical note from your attending physician or a professional doctor stating the first date you were unable to work, and the expected recovery date.

Delayed EI Application

Common reasons people delay applying for EI are because they receive a severance package or they’re waiting for their ROE from one of their employers.

Neither of these are likely to constitute just cause for delaying EI application as it is indicated on Service Canada’s website not to delay. Claimants should never delay in applying because they received a payout from their employer, even if they’re advised by a third party not to apply. In addition, an ROE is not necessary to apply for EI benefits (but is necessary to have the claim finalized).

Timeframes – When You’ll Receive Your First Payment

Currently, it can take up to 28 days to finalize an EI application, and often does. Given the economic situation and the high rate of unemployment, Service Canada Centres are processing an overwhelming number of EI claims. These are processed in the order they’re received and agents do not have discretion to allow faster processing of one claim over another.

If an ROE comes in beyond the 28 days from which you apply, an additional 21 day processing timeframe is applied from the date it is received. Even if your ROE comes in on the 28th day itself, a new timeframe will be applied, and it could take up to 49 days in total to finalize your claim. Make sure all of your ROEs from the past year are submitted in a timely manner!

Any time a decision needs to be made regarding your EI claim, it can take up to 21 days to process. This is not to say that it always does, just as some claims are finalized after just a few days. However, be aware that if a condition changes in your employment, your study/training, or your availability, a decision may have to be rendered by a Service Canada agent, and while they adjudicate your claim, no benefits will be paid. To avoid running into a possible stop-pay scenario where agents adjudicate something on your claim, make sure you’ve read through the Service Canada website and your eligibility requirements carefully. Simply starting up your own business or taking a night class may drastically affect your eligibility and require a decision.

Qualifying for EI in Canada

There is no quick way to definitively determine whether you would qualify for EI in Canada. Once an application has been made, Service Canada will review your insurable hours and earnings to determine your entitlement. That being said, there are a few standard rules.

Number of Hours Worked to Qualify for EI

To be entitled to regular benefits, you must have worked the required number of insurable hours in the past 52 weeks prior to losing your job. The number of hours can be lowered if you’ve worked at least 490 hours 2 years ago (i.e. 52-104 weeks ago - see table A below).

Those who have 910 insurable hours in the past year would qualify with enough hours for a claim, regardless of whether or not they worked 2 years ago, and regardless of the type of benefits they apply for.

However, if you worked less than 910 insurable hours in the past year, then the number needed to qualify depends on whether you worked at least 490 hours 2 years ago.  

Table A - Number of Hours of Insurable Employment Required to Qualify for EI**
(**When you have worked less than 910 insurable hours in the past year but at least 490 hours 2 years ago):

Regional rate of unemployment Required number of insurable hours
(in the last 52 weeks)
6% or less 700 hours
6.1% to 7% 665 hours
7.1% to 8% 630 hours
8.1% to 9% 595 hours
9.1% to 10% 560 hours
10.1% to 11% 525 hours
11.1% to 12% 490 hours
12.1% to 13% 455 hours
13.1% or more 420 hours

Qualifying for EI – A Few Case Examples

1)  John has been teaching overseas for a couple of years and returns to Canada. He finds a new job in Vancouver but is laid off due to a shortage of work at his company. He has worked 875 insurable hours since his return to Canada under a year ago.

Outcome: Unfortunately, John does not have any insurable hours from 2 years ago since he was working overseas, and is now considered a new entrant/re-entrant to the work force. He consequently needs 910 insurable hours to qualify for benefits.

2) Wendy has been working in Vancouver for 3 years solid, but recently she has been working just part-time until her layoff. She has 1200 insurable hours from 2 years ago, but only 800 hours in the past 52 weeks.

Outcome: Given that Wendy has over 490 insurable hours from 2 years ago, the number she needs from the past 52 weeks is lowered, based on Vancouver's rate of unemployment. At this time, it is 7.6%, so Wendy has more than enough hours to qualify for benefits.

Qualifying for EI - Reasons for Separation

If you were fired or you quit, you may think you don’t qualify for EI benefits. However, neither of these situations will automatically disentitle you from benefits and should not make you hesitate in applying. The key is whether you lost your job through your own fault or not. If you willingly put yourself in an unemployed situation, you may end up being disentitled. This could be if you voluntarily left your employment without just cause or if you were dismissed for misconduct.

Note: The reason for separation only matters for regular EI benefits, and is not considered for sickness, maternity, parental, or compassionate care. However, converting from one of these benefits to regular means that Service Canada will adjudicate your reason for separation.

Commonly Accepted Reasons for Quitting:

› Harassment at the workplace

Unreasonable change in work conditions/hours

Commonly Denied Reasons for Quitting:

› Desire to move on to something new


Quitting because of a disagreement with co-workers

Potentially Acceptable Reasons for Dismissal:

› Being unsuitable for the job


Being let go during a probationary period

Commonly Denied Reasons for Dismissal:

Absenteeism, tardiness

Breaking regulations after being warned

EI Benefits BC, Canada – What You Get

If you have enough hours to qualify to receive EI benefits in BC, Canada, your entitlement is broken down as follows.

EI Benefits Rate. This is what you earn from EI benefits per week, based on 55% of your normal weekly earnings in the past 26 weeks. The maximum benefit rate for 2013 is $501/week. More info about calculating your EI benefits rate.

EI Benefits Entitlement. This is the number of weeks you can collect EI benefits. This depends on the number of hours you've worked in the past 52 weeks, and on the regional rate of unemployment in your area. The higher the unemployment rate, the less hours you need to get entitlement. More info about EI benefits entitlement.

EI Benefit Period. This is the period of time you have to collect your entitlement. Claims are open for a period of 52 weeks, and you can collect your entitlement within this period. Don’t confuse your 52 week window to collect benefits with the actual number of weeks of benefits you’re entitled to, usually less than 52. In the event that your remaining entitlement is greater than the end of your benefit period, your claim cannot be extended to collect for those weeks.

Allowable Earnings While Receiving EI Benefits. Regular EI benefit and parental EI benefit claimants have an allowable amount of earnings they can receive each week without any deductions being made to their claim. This number is currently 25% of their weekly EI benefit rate or $50 per week, whichever is higher. Anything you earn above your allowable is deducted dollar for dollar from your benefits payable. There is no allowable during the waiting period, for sickness, compassionate care, or maternity benefit claimants. More info about allowable earning while receiving EI benefits.

EI Benefit Payment Information and Responsibilities. All claimants must serve a 2-week unpaid waiting period at the start of their claim, unless they receive paid sick leave prior, or are an apprentice. There are no allowable earnings in the waiting period either, so if you get paid from work during this period, you will have deductions from your first week payable.

Payment is made bi-weekly, and sent either by mail or direct deposit. The fastest method is the latter, which takes just 2 business days.

In order to receive payment, all claimants except those on maternity/parental leave or apprenticeship claims must complete bi-weekly claimant reports. These reports attest to one's availability for work, if they have left the country, their work and wages received, training, and other monies.

 Claimant reports are filed over the Internet or by phone. If more than 3 weeks passes from when a report is due, your claim will shut-down as inactive and need to be reactivated, with the possibility of losing out on benefits during the period of inactivity.

The questions on the reports are very straightforward, and the best way to complete them is to answer exactly as asked. There is no way to trick the system and anything but a full declaration of what is asked is recommended. Service Canada has an integrity and investigation department which is not idle.

More information on claim details, including further rights and responsibilities.

Canada Employment Insurance Tips and Common Misconceptions

Despite information available to claimants from Service Canada’s website or through the EI call center, there are many misconceptions that remain about EI and a claimant's responsibilities while on a claim (including the responsibilities of the Government).

List of EI tips & advice for common misconceptions:

Don't wait for the government to do anything beyond the timeframes indicated.

If you have to wait 21 days for a decision, don't think that waiting an extra week will be to your favour. The day after your timeframe has expired, you should call Service Canada so that your claim can be escalated. You have recourse if timeframes are not met. Take advantage of it.

Anything sent by mail can take 4-10 business days to arrive due to mailing timeframes with Canada Post. Cheques or letters can be received in as short as 2 business days, but Service Canada will not re-issue anything until at least 8 business days have elapsed.

Service Canada will find out if you leave the country while on a claim. Service Canada routinely receives information from Canada Border Service Agency and Passport Canada. Failure to report travel outside of the country on any claim type is a direct breach of your legal declaration when you applied. This can result in monetary penalties and violations (increased entrance requirements).

You are NOT available for work when travelling. Having a laptop and cell phone with you on a vacation to the Bahamas does not mean you’re available for work or payable benefits. Travel for the purpose of vacation disentitles you to regular and sickness benefits.

Service Canada will find out if you do not declare your earnings while on a claim. Service Canada synchronizes with Canada Revenue Agency. While it may take 1-3 years to get a hold of your tax records, any earnings you received but did not report while on a claim will result in an overpayment and possible penalties and violations.

The amount of money you have paid into EI is only a fraction of what you’ll likely receive on any given claim. In 2013 the maximum yearly contribution limit is $891.12. What you receive per week on EI could be up to $501, so at this rate you would make back a year of contributions in just 2 weeks. With a benefit rate of just $300/week, you would make back 12 years of maximum EI contributions in just around 35 weeks! Be careful when considering what you have paid into the system, compared to what you get out of it.

Having paid into EI in the past does not automatically entitle you to benefits at any time in the future . If you stop paying EI premiums or stop working insurable hours for over a year, or fail to meet other entitlement conditions, you may not be eligible for benefits. For example, waiting over a year to apply for benefits since you became unemployed would likely not entitle you to anything. While there are exceptions, its best to act quickly and educate yourself on entitlement conditions.

You may attend a course while receiving EI. EI benefits aren’t meant to act as a student loan, but you can take a course so long as you’re available for and capable of working. Attending an evening ESL course while looking for and being willing to accept full-time employment would likely not be a problem. However, Service Canada needs to determine to what effect your course or training interferes with your availability for work.

EI looks to the provinces for extra support with self employment, training, etc . The provinces may have financial aid or subsidies available for education, or self-employment start-up programs. However, Service Canada won’t pay for anything directly, and only acts as a partner with the provinces in cases where you have subsidized training, like apprenticeships, or other programs, like the Self-Employment Benefits Program.

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