Collecting employment insurance may be harder than you think: Reasonable Doubt

If you quit your job, you likely won’t get EI. Here’s how to get the most from unemployment


Employment insurance (EI) is the modern name for Unemployment, which makes about as much sense as the Act itself, since you need it when you are unemployed. While most employed people pay into EI, it fails to catch many people who become unemployed in its social safety net. In this article, I will be talking about regular EI benefits, as opposed to benefits delivered through EI such as maternity, parental, compassionate care and parents of critically ill children. I will also not be discussing fishing benefits.

Of the litany of reasons one may quit or lose their job, EI mainly protects those who get laid off because of work shortage or the company closing altogether, and even then, it’s only the workers who have accumulated enough hours. You must always have enough insurable hours to qualify for EI, and that number varies in every region of the country based on local unemployment rates. As a result, newly employed workers, part-time employees and people who have a hard time holding on to a job often do not have enough hours to qualify.

If you quit your job, but for a few very specific reasons, you will not get EI. Going back to school? Self-initiated change of career? Following your new girlfriend to Vancouver? These examples constitute voluntarily leaving your job. You will not get EI. However, if your boss is sexually harassing you, or maybe wants you to commit EI fraud or do something else illegal, you are likely to get it if you had no reasonable alternative to quitting and can substantiate what you are claiming. You are also permitted to follow your child, spouse or common law partner (living together for one year, or more or having/adopting a child together) to another city or province, as long as you can show that you have no reasonable alternative to leaving your job and you are ready and looking to work in your new city.

If you are fired, you are most likely not going to get EI. If you violate your company’s policies or plan a vacation without getting proper approval that results in your termination, you will not get EI. For many Canadians with families in distant parts of the world, it can be difficult to get enough consecutive days off to go visit them. Be 100 per cent certain of the dates you have been approved for prior to booking your flight and leaving the country.

If you are laid-off, but you receive other benefits, you may not get anything from EI. If your short or long-term disability payments, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits or Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) income is higher than your EI entitlement, you are unlikely to get anything.

Always consult with a lawyer about your specific situation if you are concerned about your EI entitlement. Do not rely on what you think you know, or what happened to your Uncle Jo when he got laid off. Although EI is hard to get, there are some situations where the EI Commission makes the wrong decision and you can appeal. If you have been denied by the EI Commission, you have the right to request a reconsideration of their decision, and the right to appeal to the Social Security Tribunal after that. Many, but not all, community legal clinics can give you summary advice on EI matters. Contact yours directly if you have questions or concerns about EI.

Rachael Lake is a staff lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, practising in the areas of Disability and Employment Insurance Law. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays. 

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.

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