Since 2016, the Government of Canada has been making improvements to the Employment Insurance (EI) program, in order to better meet the needs of workers and employers. These improvements include making maternity and parental benefits more flexible, providing more options to caregivers and increasing support for workers.

Support for Parents

 1. Maternity Benefits

Since December 2017, workers now have earlier access to maternity benefits. Eligible pregnant workers can receive EI maternity benefits earlier, up to 12 weeks before their due date, and up to 17 weeks after. This allows them to decide when it is best for them to begin their maternity leave.

 2. Parental Benefits

The Government of Canada has made EI parental benefits more flexible. Parents with a newborn or newly adopted child can now choose either to receive EI parental benefits over 12 months at a higher benefit rate (the standard option, with 55% replacement rate) or over 18 months at a lower benefit rate (the extended option, 33% replacement rate).

 3. Parental Sharing Benefit

For parents of children born or placed with them for the purpose of adoption on or after March 17, 2019, they can receive extra weeks of EI parental benefits so that they can share the joy and work of raising their children more equally. When parents apply for and share parental benefits, they may be eligible for 5 extra weeks of parental benefits when choosing the standard option, or 8 extra weeks of parental benefits when choosing the extended option.

Support for Caregivers

Caregiving benefits apply to someone who is a family member or considered to be like family to a person who is critically ill or injured or needing end-of-life care, in order to help him or her take time away from work to provide care or support to the person. Through EI, a claimant can receive financial assistance of up to 55% of his or her earnings, to a maximum of $573 a week.

A claimant can receive benefits during the 52 weeks following the date the person is certified by a medical doctor or nurse practitioner to be critically ill or injured or in need of end-of-life care. There are three categories of benefits, each with a distinct maximum payable period. A claimant can take the weeks of benefits within the 52-week timeframe either all at once or in separate periods. In addition, the weeks of benefits can be shared by eligible caregivers, either at the same time or one after another.

 1. Family Caregiver Benefit for Children

This category applies where the person in need of care is under 18. The maximum weeks payable is up to 35 weeks.

 2. Family Caregiver Benefit for Adults

This category applies where the person in need of care is 18 or over. The maximum weeks payable is up to 15 weeks.

 3. Compassionate Care Benefits

This category applies where the caregiver is providing care to a person of any age who requires end-of-life care. The maximum weeks payable is up to 26 weeks.

Increased Accessibility

There have been other improvements that render EI benefits more accessible.

 1. Working While on Claim

This enables a claimant to keep receiving part of his or her EI benefits and all earnings from his or her job. A claimant can keep 50 cents of his or her benefits for every dollar earned, up to 90 percent of his or her previous weekly earnings (roughly four and a half days of work). Above this cap, the EI benefits are deducted dollar-for-dollar. However, people working a full week are not eligible to receive EI benefits.

 2. Eliminating New Entrant and Re-Entrant Rules

Under the previous rules, new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market had to accumulate at least 910 hours of insurable employment before being eligible for EI regular benefits. This rule was abolished in July 2016, and new entrants and re-entrants are now under the same eligibility requirements as other claimants in the region where they live (between 420 hours to 700 hours of insurable employment).

 3. Simplifying Job Search Responsibilities

Previously, the job search responsibilities of unemployed workers were strictly defined, which would even force them to move away from their communities and take lower paying jobs. This was reversed in July 2016. However, long-standing requirements that claimants must search for and accept available work while on EI continue to be upheld.

 4. Reducing Waiting Period

The EI waiting period is a period of time for which a claimant does not get paid before beginning to receive EI benefits.  The waiting period has now been reduced from two weeks to one week. This change does not affect the maximum number of weeks of benefits a claimant may receive. Furthermore, the timelines to process claims or receive first payments remain unchanged.

 5. Pursuing Full-Time Training

Starting in fall 2018, eligible claimants who lose their jobs after several years in the workforce will have more opportunities to go back to school full-time without losing their EI benefits.

To be eligible, one must be receiving or be eligible to receive EI regular benefits or fishing benefits, and must be a long-tenured worker. A long-tenured worker is someone who has received fewer than 36 weeks of EI regular and/or fishing benefits in the last five years, and paid at least 30% of the maximum EI annual premium in 7 of the last 10 years. In addition, in order to take training while on EI, a claimant must get permission from his or her provincial or territorial government.

Stacey Reginald Ball is an experienced employment lawyer with Ball Professional Corporation.  Our office is located in Toronto, Ontario, and handles various employment law matters, including wrongful dismissal.  If you have questions regarding employment law issues, please call our office at (416) 921-7997 ext. 225.