During COVID-19 Crisis, Canadian Federal Government Makes Changes to Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits and Work-Sharing Program

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Federal Government of Canada has made changes to Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits and its Work-Sharing Program to assist eligible employers and employees. Details are provided below. 

EI Sickness Benefits During the COVID-19 Crisis

Eligibility

In Canada, EI sickness benefits are available to eligible claimants:

  1. Who are unable to work because of:
    • Illness,
    • Injury, or
    • Quarantine.
  2. Whose regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week; and
  3. Who 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.

Amount received and duration

Employees could receive 55% of their insurable earnings up to a maximum of $573 per week, for up to 15 weeks.

Special measures for applicants unable to work due to quarantine

Medical certificate requirement is waived

Typically, those seeking EI sickness benefits must obtain a medical certificate signed by a qualified medical professional.  This requirement has been waived for those claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine, although a medical note may be required if the quarantine period is extended.    

One-week waiting period is waived

Typically, there is a one-week waiting period during which an eligible employee would not receive EI sickness benefits.  This one-week waiting period has been waived for claimants who are quarantined, enabling them to be paid for the first week of their claim.

Applications will be processed on a priority basis

Application processing for EI sickness claims for claimants under quarantine will be prioritized.

Delayed claims will be backdated

Those who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.   

Employer Top-up of Employees’ EI Sickness Benefits

An employer can establish a Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Plan (SUBP) to top up employees' EI benefits during a period of unemployment due to a temporary layoff for, among other things, sickness.  Unless a SUBP is registered with Service Canada and meets specific requirements, it will be treated as income and EI benefits received by the employee may be reduced.  For more information about SUBPs, see s. 37(1) of the Employment Insurance Regulations (SOR/96-332). 

Federal Work-Sharing Program During the COVID-19 Crisis

In Canada, there is a work-sharing program to help eligible employers avoid layoffs and provide income support to employees when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity that is beyond the employer’s control. Special measures are now in place to enable eligible employers to retain skilled employees and to continue employment of workers while business is reduced due to the COVID-19 crisis.  Through this program, eligible employees receive EI benefits as income support while they reduce their normal work schedule and share available work. 

Who is eligible to participate in a work-sharing program?

Eligible employees   

Eligible employees are those who:

  • Are eligible for EI benefits.
  • Are year-round, permanent, full- or part-time employees.
  • Are part of the employer’s “core staff”.
  • Agree to reduce their normal work schedule and to share available work.

Eligible employers

Eligible employers are those that:

  • Have been involved in a year-round business (private business, public company, and not-for-profit organization) in Canada for at least two years.
  • Are experiencing at least a 10% recent decline in sales or production levels in the last six months.
  • Can demonstrate that:
    • The recent decline is directly or indirectly related to impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak and
    • The work shortage is temporary and beyond the employer’s control.
    • The decline cannot be due to a recurring slow-down.
  • Are willing to submit a recovery plan outlining measures that will be implemented to support the on-going operation of the business. 

Application for the program

The program must be applied for jointly by both employers and employees (and the union, if applicable). 

Special measures during the COVID-19 crisis  

Waiver of 30-day mandatory waiting period

Typically, applications must be submitted at least 30 days in advance. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, however, this mandatory waiting period has been waived. 

Extension of duration of work-sharing agreements

Typically, work-sharing agreements can be in place for up to 38 weeks. However, the federal government has temporarily doubled the maximum duration to 76 weeks for Canadian businesses that are experiencing a reduction in the normal level of business activity due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Bottom Line for Employers

The special measures implemented by Canada’s federal government as described above are designed to help eligible employees and employers survive the COVID-19 crisis.  Employers should encourage their employees to apply for EI sickness benefits, if doing so is appropriate in their circumstances.  Employers should also consider taking advantage of the federal work-sharing program if they would like to avoid layoffs while providing income support to employees. 

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.