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Understanding Unemployment Benefits

By Rebecca Lake

Published July 14, 2023 • 5 Min Read

A job loss can throw a serious wrench in your financial plans. If you don’t have other income to rely on, you may wonder how you’ll be able to pay the bills until you can secure a new position.

Unemployment benefits can help make a short-term loss of income easier to bear. If you’ve never applied for unemployment benefits before, it helps to know what you can expect.

Understanding Employment Insurance (EI) benefits

Employment Insurance (EI) provides benefits to Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. For example, you may qualify if your job loss results from a layoff or a shortage of work. You can also collect benefits if you’re looking for a job but cannot find work.

Who qualifies for unemployment benefits?

There are a few criteria you’ll need to meet to qualify for regular EI benefits. You’ll need to show that you:

  • Were employed in insurable employment

  • Lost your job through no fault of your own

  • Have been without work and pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks

  • Worked the required number of insurable employment hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last unemployment benefits claim, whichever is shorter

  • Are capable of working and are ready to do so

  • Are actively looking for work

Can you get EI benefits if you quit your job voluntarily?

Yes, but only if you can show that quitting was the only reasonable alternative when all circumstances are considered. For example, if you’re being sexually harassed on the job or actively discriminated against, you may still be able to get EI benefits if you decide to leave.

You should also know that certain situations can bar you from getting benefits. For instance, you typically won’t qualify if you were let go for misconduct, are fired for not complying with COVID-19 vaccine mandates or lost your job because you’re in jail.

How to apply for EI benefits after a job loss

You can apply for unemployment benefits online, but you’ll need some key information to start a claim. Here’s everything you’ll want to have before starting the application.

  • Your social insurance number

  • The last name at birth of one of your parents

  • Your mailing address and home address

  • Banking information (required to sign up for direct deposit of benefits)

  • Names, addresses, dates of employment and reason for separation for all of the employers you had in the past 52 weeks

  • Details about the circumstances surrounding your job loss

  • Information about your highest weeks earnings for the past 52 weeks

You’ll also need to share your email address and phone number when you apply. If you’re approved, you’ll receive a notice stating how much you’re eligible to receive, when your payments will begin and how long you’ll be able to collect benefits. Typically, the first payment should arrive within 28 days once approved.

While you’re receiving EI, you’ll have to report to Service Canada every two weeks. If you earn any money while you’re receiving benefits, you’ll need to report those amounts. Failing to do so could result in you having to repay some of the benefits you received.

What to do if your claim is denied

If you’re denied EI benefits, you can ask for a reconsideration. You’ll need to submit a request for reconsideration within 30 days of getting the decision notice from Service Canada.

Whether your request is successful can depend on how you make your case. If, for example, you have new supporting documentation to share or any other information that could affect your eligibility, it could be easier to get approved the second time around.

Tips for navigating job loss

Losing a job can be unpleasant, to say the least, but having a game plan can make it easier to deal with. Here are a few tips for minimizing any financial fallout from a job loss.

  • Don’t way to file a claim for EI benefits. Waiting to file could cause you to miss your eligibility window.

  • Check with your payroll or HR department about receiving severance pay. If you’re getting a severance package, you won’t be able to receive those payments, and EI benefits at the same time.

  • Explore other benefit programs if you don’t qualify for EI. You can use the online Benefits Finder tool to find other federal, territorial or provincial assistance you might qualify for.

  • Take advantage of free tools and resources.Job Bank, for example, features job search advice, information about the job market and a search tool to help you find employment listings.

Reviewing your budget can also help you get a grip on your financial situation when dealing with a job loss. You can use an online budget calculator to see how much you’re spending and identify areas where you might be able to cut back until your income returns to its normal level.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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