If you have been laid off, cannot attend work due to the virus, or must stay home to care for children due to the school closures, here is a complete guide to the federal government’s Employment Insurance benefits available to you during this crisis and emergency, including answering your questions about being self-employed and “top-ups” from your employer, if any.
EMERGENCY BENEFITS AVAILABLE FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT:
Employees and parents are entitled to apply for new financial assistance through EI due to the COVID-19 crisis; specifically:
 a short-term Emergency Care Benefit, offering up to $900.00 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks, administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”), available to:
[a] employees (including self-employed, gig economy and freelance workers), quarantined or sick with COVID-19, but do not qualify for regular EI sickness;
[b] employees (including self-employed, gig economy and freelance workers), taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, including an elderly parent, but who do not quality for EI sickness benefits; or
[c] parents who care or supervise their child(ren) because of the school closures and, as a result, cannot attend work and earn any income, regardless whether that parent may otherwise qualify for EI benefits.
Applications for this benefit cannot be made until April, 2020. Each applicant will have to verify he or she is eligible for the benefit, including ongoing verification while the benefit is being received. A doctor’s note will not be required.
 a longer-term Emergency Support Benefit (i.e., income support program) for employees, administered through the CRA, offering up to $5 billion in support to workers who are ineligible for EI and are, or will be, unemployed, together with a proposed, one-time special funding payment by May of 2020 to low and modest-income families, administered through the Goods and Services Tax Credit – it is estimated that the average increase to income for those benefitting from this funding measure will be approximately $400.00 for single individuals and close to $600.00 for couples;
 an increase to the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year by $300.00 per child;
 emergency funding for targeted groups, who may be more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, including First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation communities, and people repaying their student loans; and
 EI sickness benefits, providing up to 15 weeks of income replacement to eligible workers unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine, intended to give workers adequate time to return to good health and to work, including those quarantined due to COVID-19, who are eligible for this benefit, too. Note: [a] the usual one-week wait period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimed quarantined, so they are paid for the initial week of their claim; [b] priority EI application processing will reportedly be utilized for those claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine, who do not need to provide a doctor’s note or medical certificate in order to apply and receive this benefit; [c] it remains uncertain if a qualified worker will be required to provide ongoing updates and reporting, such as every two weeks, verifying continuous qualification for the benefit; and [d] workers who are unable to complete their claims for EI sickness benefits because of quarantine may apply in future and their claims will reportedly be backdated to over the quarantine-related delay;
QUALIFYING FOR EI SICKNESS BENEFITS (ELIGIBILITY):
To qualify for EI sickness benefits, you must:
 be employed in insurable employ;
 have had your normal weekly earnings have been reduced by more than 40%;
 have accumulated at least 600 hours of insurable employment during the qualifying period; and
 be self-employed, registered for EI and submitting premiums for at least one year.
If you are ineligible for EI sickness benefits, you may qualify for regular EI benefits.
More information is available about qualifying for regular EI benefits here:
If you are self-employed, you can access EI special benefits by entering into an agreement, or registering, with the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. There are six types of EI special benefits currently:
- Maternity benefits are for people who are away from work because they’re pregnant or have recently given birth (up to 15 weeks).
- Parental benefits are for parents who are away from work to care for their newborn or newly adopted child. When applying for parental benefits, you need to choose between 2 options: standard or extended.
- Up to 40 weeks of standard parental benefits can be paid to parents sharing benefits, but one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks. If parents share benefits, they must choose the same option.
- Up to 69 weeks of extended parental benefits can be paid to parents sharing benefits, but one parent cannot receive more than 61 weeks. If parents share benefits, they must choose the same option.
- Sickness benefits are for people who cannot work due to injury, illness, or the need to be isolated in quarantine because they may be carrying a disease (up to 15 weeks).
- Compassionate care benefits are for caregivers who must be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a person who is seriously ill with a significant risk of death (up to 26 weeks). The 26 weeks of benefits can be shared between different caregivers who applied and are eligible to receive them.
- The family caregiver benefit for children is for caregivers who must be away from work to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured child under 18. Either one or more caregivers can share up to 35 weeks of benefits between them.
- The family caregiver benefit for adults is for caregivers who must be away from work to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured adult. Either one or more caregivers can share up to 15 weeks of benefits between them.
More information for self-employed individuals and EI benefits is here:
CLAWBACKS AND DEDUCTIONS AGAINST EI BENEFITS (FOR WORKING):
If an employee works while receiving EI (sickness or regular) benefits, the employee is able to keep only one-half (i.e., $0.50) of the EI benefits for every dollar earned earn, up to 90% of the weekly insurable earnings used to calculate the employee’s EI benefit amount (i.e., the earnings threshold). If the employee earns any income above the earnings threshold, the Commission will deduct those amounts dollar-for-dollar from the benefits received by the employee. Whether an employee’s income during an EI benefit period will be deducted depends on whether the income falls within the meaning of “earnings” in the EI program.
Certain kinds of income will not impact EI benefits, including:
[a] disability benefits;
[b] survivor or dependent benefits;
[c] worker's compensation benefits paid under specific regulations;
[d] additional insurance benefits paid under an approved private plan (for example, payments for pain and suffering or medical expenses that received from an insurance company after an employee has been injured in a car accident);
[e] additional sickness benefits paid by an employer from a registered supplemental unemployment benefit plan (as long as the income, benefits, and additional amounts combined do not exceed 95% of the weekly earnings);
[f] sickness or disability payments received under a private wage loss replacement plan; and
[g] retroactive salary increases.
Here is a chart explaining what constitutes earnings for EI:
EMPLOYER-PAID “TOP UP” TO EI BENEFITS [SIMILAR TO PARENTAL OR MATERNAL LEAVE]:
If an employer tops-up an employees earnings, beyond the EI (sick or regular) benefits, it will be considered “earnings” and will be deducted or clawed-back from the employee’s benefits, unless the top-up was given under a formalized “top up” plan, otherwise known as a “Supplemental Unemployment Benefit”. Therefore, employees who received an informal, non-registered top-up, at least currently, are likely to be subject to claw-back against their EI benefits.
SUB PLANS – SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLAN (“SUB”) – NO CLAWBACK:
Any employer can utilize a SUB to increase employees’ weekly earning during a period of unemployment, when they are unemployed as a result of a temporary stoppage or shortage of work, training, illness, injury or quarantine. Payments from SUBs must be registered with Service Canada – they are not considered to be earnings and are not deducted from EI (sick and regular) benefits.
SUBs must be registered by Service Canada, as of the date on which the application for the SUB is filed by the employer. SUBs must be registered before the effective date of the SUB. If a SUB plan is not registered, at least currently, any top-up payments by the employer to EI (sick or regular) benefits will be deemed as “earnings”, and be subject to deduction or claw-back, as explained above.
More information about SUBs is available here:
A sample SUB is available here:
PROVINCIAL (ESA) LEAVES OF ABSENCE AND EI BENEFITS – TIED TOGETHER:
Note that the new, statutory leaves of absence authorized by Ontario in response to COVID-19 are tied to, and rely on, the federal EI program to compensate employees while they are away from work. However, this is subject to change depending on what funding is allocated to the program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More information about Ontario’s COVID-19-related authorized leaves of absence can be found here: