One million Canadians applied for EI in a one-week span in March of 2020. Experts expect EI claims will continue to be high as economic recovery continues.
Many people who applied for EI were new to the program. Some only needed it for a short time, but with new business closures, many may need to access it again. In September, the federal government made revisions to the EI program.
As a result, even people who have made use of EI in the past have questions. One of the most common is, “Can you work while on EI?”
This guide will go over the different rules, how to calculate your benefit, and more.
Is Working on Employment Insurance Allowed?
The purpose of the employment insurance program is to help Canadians who have recently become unemployed. It provides payments while you seek out new work.
The program is short-term. Many initiatives aim to get Canadians back to work as soon as possible. Past federal governments have made rules to make getting a new job the priority for those who access EI benefits.
Given that, you might think that you can't work while on EI. That way, you’d be tempted to take the next job opportunity that comes your way so you could start earning more again.
You can actually work while you’re accessing EI benefits, though. There are certain rules around this, though, so you’ll want to make sure you understand them.
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How Much Can You Work While on EI?
While you can work while on EI, there are rules governing it. The government sets limits both on how much you can earn and how much you can work.
How much you earn, though, affects how much your EI benefit is worth. The more money you make, the less the EI program will pay you.
To understand this, you need to know how Service Canada calculates EI benefits.
How Does the Government Determine Your EI Benefit?
If you’re employed in Canada, you likely pay into the employment insurance program. Self-employed Canadians can pay into the program, although they have to “opt-in.” Otherwise, they don’t pay EI.
Other Canadians do pay EI, which is deducted from every pay cheque. Their employers also pay part of EI.
When you lose your job, you’re entitled to access the EI program, as long as you’ve worked the required number of hours. The minimum is more than 400 hours in the last 52 weeks or since you last accessed the program.
In many industries, that would be around 10 weeks of full-time work. How many hours you need depends on the rate of unemployment in your area. If unemployment is high, then the number of hours is lower.
If you’ve been given a notice of violation, then the number of hours you need to work before submitting a claim increases.
If you lose your job through no fault of your own after working the required hours, you can apply for EI benefits. The government then calculates how much you’re entitled to. For 2021, the maximum weekly benefit is just shy of $600.
For part-time workers and hourly labourers, the program looks at your “best” weeks. In high unemployment areas, the sample is 14 weeks. In areas with lower unemployment, Service Canada looks at 22 weeks.
Your earnings over these weeks will then be averaged out.
If you’re considered part of a low-income family, then you may be eligible for a supplemental payment.
EI Benefits Are Taxable
It’s important to remember that EI benefits are taxable. That means if you qualify for $500 weekly, you must pay tax on it. The government withholds this automatically.
Your deposit amounts will be smaller than your benefit for that reason.
Working While on Claim Program
In 2018, the government made permanent the Working While on Claim program. If you choose to work while on EI, your earnings will impact your benefit. The current rule is that for every dollar you earn at a job, you’ll lose $0.50 from your EI benefits.
The other factor is your insurable earnings, which depends on what you made at your last job. You can earn up to 90% of this amount and still receive EI benefits, although the payment will be less.
An example makes it easy to understand how this works. Suppose you worked full-time at a minimum wage job in Ontario. You earned $14 per hour, or around $560 per week.
You put in your required hours, then lost your job when the business you work at has to close down. Since unemployment is high, you’re having trouble finding a new job.
You apply for EI benefits. Your maximum insurable earnings are $560 per week, which is just below the top payout. You can earn around $500, and you’ll still receive EI benefits.
These benefits will be less, though. For every dollar you earn up to $500, your EI benefit will be reduced by $0.50. You would only receive $310 in EI if you earned $500 through waged labour.
If you earn more than $500, then every dollar counts against your EI benefit. If you earned $600, then you would lose another $100 from your EI benefits. You would only receive $210.
Restrictions on How Much You Can Work
The other restriction is that you can only work part-time while on EI. If you work a “full week,” then you’re not entitled to EI benefits.
There isn’t a set number of hours that Service Canada considers “full-time.” Instead, they count the number of days you work. EI lets you earn 4.5 days’ worth of wages.
If you work five days in a one-week period, you’ll lose your EI benefits.
What About Other EI Benefits?
When the government made the 50-cent rule permanent in 2018, they also extended it beyond regular EI benefits. The Working While on Claim program now includes maternity, parental leave, and sickness benefits.
What does that mean? For Canadians who claim these benefits, you can still work while on EI. Your earnings while on claim are subject to the same rules as the regular EI benefits program.
That means you can earn up to 90% of your insurable earnings. Your EI benefit will be reduced by $0.50 for every dollar you earn under this rule.
If you earn more than 90%, your wages count dollar-for-dollar against your EI benefits. If you work full-time, then you’ll lose your EI benefits altogether.
Keep in mind that the minimum number of hours you need to work to access these benefits is different. You must work 600 hours to access parental benefits, sickness, or caregiving benefits.
Most provinces have their own social assistance programs as well. If you live in Ontario, you may qualify for the Ontario Works program. This is not the same as the federal EI program, and it’s designed to help with basic needs.
The other provinces have similar programs. Quebec is the only province that maintains its own employment insurance regime.
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How Long Do EI Benefits Last?
This is another common question asked by Canadians. It depends a bit on how much you worked and if you’ve accessed the program before.
You may be eligible for up to 45 weeks of regular EI benefits. The minimum is 26 weeks. Maternity benefits last for 15 weeks.
Parental leave can last longer than a year, but the rate of pay is lower. If you opt to take 12 months, then you’ll receive the usual rate of 55% of earnings, up to the maximum benefit.
If you take the longer period, then the rate drops to 33% of your insurable earnings. The maximum weekly benefit is also lower for this option. After 50 weeks of benefits are paid, your extra time uses the 55% rate.
That determines exactly how much “extra” time you can take for parental leave.
Sickness benefits and caregiving benefits have their own rules.
Recent Changes to the EI Program
In September 2020, the federal government of Canada made temporary changes to the EI program. These changes should help more Canadians in need access the program.
To help Canadians get the benefits they need, the government waived waiting periods. If you lose your job, you can apply for EI right away. In normal circumstances, you need to wait to have been without employment or pay for at least seven days.
The government also set the unemployment rate to a minimum of 13.1% across the country. That means Canadians living anywhere in the country only need 420 hours to access EI benefits.
There was also a 300-hour credit given to eligible Canadians. That means people only need to have worked 120 hours in the previous 52 weeks to get access to EI. If the applicant took the CERB in 2020, the 52-week period expands to make sure they can qualify.
Successful EI applicants will be eligible for a minimum of 26 weeks. The minimum payment is $500 per week. People claiming sickness benefits also don’t need to provide a medical certificate.
People who are part of a work-sharing agreement may also be eligible for EI benefits. Employers may also offer their employees a top-up or supplemental payment.
Is It Worth Working While on EI?
Since every dollar you earn decreases your EI benefit, some people think it’s not worth working at all. The Working While on Claim program encourages people to work, even if they have a claim.
If everything you earned counted dollar-for-dollar, then your EI benefits would vanish fast. You’d be no further ahead or behind, and you'd also have to consider the transportation costs of a possible commute to work, and maybe even child care for your child(ren), if applicable.
With the Working While on Claim program, you can increase your weekly income. In short, you get more by working while on EI than claiming EI alone.
You Must Look for Work
Keep in mind that you must prove you’re looking for work while you claim EI benefits. If you don’t fill in bi-weekly reports, then you might lose your benefits altogether.
You can also lose your benefits if you turn down a job that’s offered to you. That’s considered leaving a job by choice. If you leave a job by your own choice, then you’re not eligible for EI benefits.
This is true even in the current environment. Many people worry about going back to work and feel it might not be safe. If they refuse to return to work, they could lose access to their EI benefits.
You might also decide not to fill in bi-weekly reports with your job-search activity. After all, there are very few jobs available right now. It could be difficult to prove you’re looking for work if there are no jobs to apply to.
The government encourages you to continue filling in your bi-weekly reports anyway. That way, you can be sure you’ll continue to receive your EI benefits.
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