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Employment Insurance

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Last updated: 07-2021

The Employment Insurance (EI) program provides temporary income support to eligible unemployed workers while they look for employment or to upgrade their skills. The EI program also provides special benefits to workers who take time off work due to specific life events.

Definitions and Sources

The Employment Insurance (EI) program provides temporary income support to workers who face unexpected job loss or take a leave of absence from work due to illness, injury, pregnancy, taking care of a newborn or newly adopted child(ren), or to provide care for a family member facing a critical illness/injury or requiring end-of-life care. The program also covers fishers as well as self-employed workers looking to access special EI benefits. 

The EI program is administered by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, an entity within Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). ESDC and Service Canada, on behalf of the commission, are responsible for administrative and regulatory tasks such as determining EI eligibility, processing EI claims, and setting the annual premium rate and maximum insurable earnings. 

This entry describes EI programs in broad terms and details specific information about EI eligibility and access to employment insurance data. ESDC provides a list of definitions for those applying for and navigating EI programs.

General Eligibility and Contributions to EI

For employed workers

To receive EI benefits, a worker must be a paid employee who has paid EI premiums in the past year and meets certain qualifying conditions (discussed below). Employees who pay EI premiums are called “insured workers.” 

The three categories of benefits for eligible employees are as follows: 

  • Regular benefits, which offer income support to workers who temporarily face job loss and are looking for work. 
  • Special benefits, which offer income support to workers who are temporarily away from work: 
    • Because of pregnancy and childbirth (Maternity benefits). 
    • To care for a newborn or newly adopted child (Parental benefits). 
    • Because of an illness, injury or quarantine (Sickness benefits). 
    • To care for or support a person who requires end-of-life care (Compassionate care benefits). 
    • To care for or support a critically ill or injured adult (Family caregiver benefit for adults).
    • To care for or support a critically ill or injured child (Family caregiver benefit for children).
    • Fishing benefits, which cover self-employed fishers without work (and include both regular and special benefit types).

      When an employee is paid in Canada, an EI contribution (also known as an EI premium) is deducted from their earnings. The contribution (or premium) is used to cover EI benefits and administration. For all provinces and territories other than Quebec, the 2021 contributions are calculated at a rate of $1.58 per $100 earned (see Box 1). The amount of an employee’s salary on which they pay premiums is capped at the Maximum Insurable Earnings (MIE). For 2021, the MIE is $56,300. Thus, a person earning $56,300 or more will pay $889.54 into EI for 2021. The rate of contribution and the MIE is adjusted yearly. A table of the current and historical rates of contribution, MIE and premiums is available on the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) website. 

      Eligible insured workers will receive regular EI benefits at a rate of 55% of their weekly insurable earnings. At this rate, a worker who earns an annual income of $56,300 or more in 2021 can expect to receive up to a maximum of $595 per week in regular benefits, depending on their eligibility and hours worked.

      Box 1: Quebec EI Contributions and the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP)

      The rates of EI contribution in Quebec differ from the other provinces and territories. The 2021 rate is $1.18 per $100 earned. The MIE is the same. Thus, a person earning $56,300 or more will pay $664.34 into EI over the course of 2021. The employer contribution, however, is the same (1.4 times the employee’s contribution). The rate is lower for Quebec workers because, since 2006, they have been receiving maternity and parental benefits through the Quebec Parental Insurance Program (QPIP) rather than the EI program. Quebec workers and employers pay separate premiums to the province of Quebec to fund QPIP. 

      In 2021, the salaried worker premium rate of QPIP is 0.494% of taxable income up to a maximum of $83,500, which equates to a maximum of $412.49 in contributions per year. Employers have a QPIP premium rate of 0.692% for their employees or $577.82 per worker per year. Self-employed workers, who have mandatory coverage under QPIP, pay a premium of 0.878% up to a maximum of $733.13 in 2021. 

      For self-employed workers

      Self-employed workers may also participate in the EI program to access special benefits. They must formally register for the program and pay EI premiums. 

      The following eligibility requirements apply 

      • be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident 
      • have been registered in the self-employed EI program for at least 12 months 
      • have decreased the time spent on the business by more than 40% for a least a week
      • earned the minimum salary requirements in the previous year

        Self-employed workers are eligible only for special EI benefits (see above). Their rate of contribution, MIE and benefit rate calculations are the same as for employed workers. 

        For employers

        Employers have several responsibilities concerning EI, which are geared to helping ensure its fair and efficient operation. Among these include deducting and remitting the EI premiums for their employees and themselves, issuing Records of Employment (ROE) when their employees experience an interruption of earnings, and responding to all Service Canada requests for information. 

        Employers are required to pay 1.4 times the amount of their employees’ premiums. For workers earning $56,300 or more in 2021, employers will pay $1,245.36 per worker. 

        Employers who provide their employees with a short-term disability plan that meets certain requirements may be entitled to pay their EI premiums at a lower rate than the standard employer rate (i.e., less than 1.4 times the employee’s EI premium). 

        Employers can also provide supplemental payments to increase the revenue their employees earn while receiving EI benefits. Supplemental payments are not deducted from the employee’s EI benefits when certain requirements are met, such as periods of temporary stoppage of work, training or illness, or maternity, parental, compassionate or family care.

        Work sharing

        Work sharing helps employers avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in business activity. The agreement is made between the group of employees, the employer and Service Canada. The program provides income support to employees who work reduced hours while their employer recovers. Wages are replaced by 55% of the reduced hours employers face for 6 to 76 weeks. To be eligible, employers must have been in business for two years, demonstrate a shortage of work, prove a recent decrease in business and implement a recovery strategy to return to normal working hours.

        Types of Benefits Available and Specific Eligibility Requirements

        Regular benefits

        Regular EI benefits provide temporary income support to insured workers who experience a job loss, through no fault of their own, while they seek re-employment. To apply for regular benefits, individuals must submit a claim online. 

        Individuals may be entitled to regular EI benefits if they

        • were employed in insurable employment 
        • lost their job through no fault of their own
        • have been without work and pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks 
        • have worked for the required number of insurable employment hours in the last 52 weeks (i.e. the qualifying period) or since the start of their last EI claim, whichever is shorter 
        • are ready, willing, and capable of working each day 
        • are actively looking for work

          Generally, the “qualifying period” is 52 weeks before a claim is made. This period can be shorter (if the claimant has a previous benefit period), it can also be longer in certain specific circumstances. 

          Eligible individuals are entitled to between 14 and 45 weeks of regular EI benefits, depending on the rate of unemployment in their region at the time of filing their claim and the number of hours worked in the qualifying period. Under certain circumstances, claimants may be able to combine regular and special EI benefits up to a maximum of 50 weeks within a 52-week benefit period provided the claimant proves eligibility and entitlement for both. Please see the specific situations guide at the ESDC for more information. 

          While the standard EI rules apply to most workers, for teachers and apprentices, some variations to the standard rules exist due to contractual arrangements.

          Special benefits

          Sickness benefits

          EI sickness benefits are paid for up to 15 weeks of income support to eligible workers who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine, but would otherwise be available to work. Some employers provide their own paid sick leave or short-term disability plan. Before claimants apply for EI sickness benefits, it is recommended that they check with their employer to find out if they have a plan in place.

          To be eligible for EI sickness benefits, applicants must

          • provide a medical certificate documenting that they are unable to work due to illness, injury, quarantine, or any other medical condition that would prevent them from working 
          • be able to demonstrate regular earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week 
          • have accumulated at least 600 insured hours of work in the last 52 weeks before the start of their claim or since the start of their last claim, whichever is shorter 

          If the claimant’s medical condition is expected to be long-term or permanent, they may be eligible for other benefits such as the Canada Pension Plan disability benefits or the Quebec Pension Plan disability benefits. 

          Applications must be completed online as soon as possible after claimants stop working. If filing is delayed by more than four weeks after their last day of work, they may be ineligible to collect benefits.

          Maternity benefits

          EI maternity benefits provide up to 15 weeks of income support to people who are away from work because they are pregnant or have recently given birth. The person receiving maternity benefits may also be entitled to parental benefits. Maternity benefits cannot be shared between parents. 

          To be eligible, applicants must 

          • be pregnant or have recently given birth 
          • be able to demonstrate regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week 
          • have accumulated at least 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

          Parental benefits 

          EI parental benefits provide income support to the parents of a newborn or newly adopted child(ren). There are two mutually exclusive options available: 1) standard parental benefits and 2) extended parental benefits. Unlike maternity benefits, parental benefits may be shared between parents, but each parent must choose the same option and submit their own application. The choice between standard and extended parental benefits cannot be changed once any benefits have been paid on either parent’s claim. Parents who are sharing can receive their weeks of benefits simultaneously or consecutively. 

          Standard parental benefits provide up to 40 weeks of benefits at the benefit rate of 55% of insurable earnings, up to a maximum of $595 per week in 2021, in the 12 months following the birth or arrival of the adopted child. One parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks of standard parental benefits. 

          Extended parental benefits provide up to 69 weeks of benefits at the rate of 33%, up to the maximum of $357 per week in 2021, in the 18 months following the birth or arrival of the adopted child. No parent can access more than 61 weeks. 

          To be eligible, applicants must 

          • be a parent caring for their newborn or newly adopted child(ren)
          • be able to demonstrate regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week 
          • have accumulated at least 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

            Applications for EI maternity and parental benefits can be submitted online. The Province of Quebec is responsible for providing maternity, paternity, parental and adoption benefits to its residents through the Québec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP).

            EI caregiving benefits provide income support of up to 55% of the claimant’s insurable earnings, to a maximum of $595 per week, to people who are away from work to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured person (i.e., someone whose baseline state of health has changed significantly because of illness or injury, putting their life at risk) or someone needing end-of-life care (i.e. a person who has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within six months). 

            There are three types of caregiving benefits with different periods of coverage: 

            • The “Family caregiver benefit for children” provides eligible claimants with up to 35 weeks of income support to care for a critically ill or injured person under 18 years of age. 
            • The “Family caregiver benefit for adults” provides eligible claimants with up to 15 weeks of income support to care for a critically ill or injured person 18 years of age or older. 
            • The “Compassionate care benefit” provides eligible claimants with up to 26 weeks of income support to care for a person of any age who requires end-of-life care. 

            These caregiving benefits may be taken either all at once or in separate periods, and they may be shared by eligible caregivers. 

            To be eligible for caregiver status, applicants must 

            • be a family member of the person who is critically ill, injured, or in need of end-of-life care or be considered as family by the person they will be caring for 
            • demonstrate their regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least one week because they need to take time away from work to provide care or support to the person 
            • have accumulated at least 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 
            • provide Service Canada with a medical certificate issued by the medical doctor or nurse practitioner of the family member who is critically ill or injured for all the caregiver benefits 

            Applications can be submitted online as soon as possible after a claimant stops working. If filing is delayed by more than four weeks after the claimant’s last day of work, they may be ineligible to collect benefits. 

            Family supplement

            The EI Family Supplement provides additional income support to low-income families with children while receiving EI benefits. To be eligible, EI claimants must have an annual family net income that is less than or equal to $25,921, have one or more children (under the age of 18), and receive the Canada Child Benefit (CCB). For eligible claimants, the Family Supplement can increase their EI benefit rate from 55% of weekly insurable earnings up to a maximum of 80% of their weekly insurable earnings.

            EI provides fishing benefits to qualifying, self-employed fishers who are actively seeking work. Unlike regular EI benefits, eligibility for EI fishing benefits is based on earnings, not insurable hours of employment. 

            To qualify for EI fishing benefits, applicants must

            • meet the definition of a self-employed fisher 
            • have paid EI premiums during their qualifying period 
            • not qualify for regular benefits 
            • have earned a minimum of $2,500 from self-employment in fishing during their qualifying period, depending on their regional unemployment rate 

            The weekly benefit rate is calculated by dividing the fisher’s total insurable earnings during the qualifying period by the divisor associated with the claimant’s regional unemployment rate. 

            Any claimant who qualifies may receive a maximum entitlement of 26 weeks of EI fishing benefits per claim within the fixed benefit period, with the possibility of establishing claims in the winter and summer benefit periods. The benefit period for a winter claim can start as early as the week of April 1 and must end no later than the week of December 15, whereas the benefit period for a summer claim can start as early as the week of October 1 and must end no later than the week of June 15. 

            Find more information on how to apply in the fishing benefits section of the EI website.

            Sources of EI Data

            Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report (EI MAR) 

            ESDC and Service Canada produce the Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report under the direction and guidance of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. The report relies on many sources of information to give a thorough analysis of the impact and effectiveness of the EI program. Sources include EI administrative data, Statistics Canada survey data, internal and external analytical reports, and peer-reviewed evaluation studies. The most recent EI monitoring and assessment reports can be accessed online. 

            Employment Insurance Statistics (EIS) 

            Statistics Canada releases monthly Employment Insurance Statistics (EIS) produced from administrative data sources provided by Service Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada. The EIS is based on administrative data and focuses on the numbers of applications, claims, benefit payments as well as disqualifications from EI. The information comes from both administrative and survey data on those in EI programs. The EIS is used to inform the ESDC on program evaluation and development. Once the ESDC has processed and verified the claimant information, this data is prepared for distribution to other government agencies. The data is also provided to Statistics Canada, which prepares it in a user-friendly format. 

            EI statistics indicate the number of people who received EI benefits and should not be confused with Labour Force Survey (LFS) data, which provides monthly estimates of the total number of unemployed people. There is always a certain proportion of unemployed people who do not qualify for benefits. Some unemployed people have not contributed to the program because they have not worked in the past 12 months or their employment was not insured. Other unemployed people have contributed to the program but do not meet the eligibility criteria, such as workers who left their job voluntarily or those who did not accumulate enough hours of work to receive benefits. 

            Employment Insurance Coverage Survey 

            The Employment Insurance Coverage Survey provides information on who does or does not have access to EI benefits among jobless and underemployed workers in Canada, as well as access to maternity and parental benefits. This survey is administered to a sub-sample of respondents in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) four times a year (April, July, November and January). The survey was designed to provide a detailed description of groups with a low probability of receiving EI benefits and those who have exhausted EI benefits, job search intensity, and alternate sources of income and funds. It also samples mothers with young children in greater frequency to understand the uptake of EI among this demographic. 

            Employment Insurance Tracking Survey 

            The Employment Insurance Tracking Survey provides information on Canadians 18 years and older related to the EI program. The survey was discontinued in 2011. 

            Data Access

            The data discussed in the section above can be accessed through the different channels presented below.

            Statistics Canada

            Data Tables Customized Products Public Use Microdata File (PUMF) Real-Time Remote Access (RTRA) Research Data Centre (RDC)
            Statistics Canada – Employment Insurance Statistics (EIS) Several tabulations available Available  Not Available  Not Available Available from 1997 to 2018
            Statistics Canada Employment Insurance Coverage Survey 2019 Tables Available Available Available for 2014 to 2016 Available from 1998 to 2017
            ESDC  EI Monitoring and Assessment Report 20192020

            Other Sources

            Source Data Access
            Statistics Canada – Employment Insurance Statistics (EIS) Open Data Government Portal

            Data Applications

            The EI administrative data acts as a census for those among the unemployed that are eligible and receive benefits. The number of beneficiaries can be used as an estimate for those unemployed and actively looking for work. The change in active beneficiaries can help inform the tightening or loosening of labour markets for certain occupations. Another indicator that can be extracted from EI data is the number of weeks a beneficiary has been receiving benefits. Higher than average benefit weeks may reflect lower employment opportunities and overall weaker labour demand. 

            This data can help provide indicators of slowing economic activity and increases in unemployment duration. However, it does not capture ineligible workers and new labour market entrants. It also does not include those who have exhausted their benefits or changed jobs in the very short term. Similarly, the data may overrepresent trade occupations due to their seasonal nature and apprenticeship structure in Canada. Overall, approximately 50% of unemployed workers are eligible to collect EI. 

            ESDC and government research agencies can use EI data to improve program effectiveness. Administrative EI claims data is used to improve existing programs and inform regional governments on labour market stability. The data also is used to determine the cost of these programs in setting future EI premium rates. 

            Policymakers and government researchers use this data to inform their respective agencies on regional changes to sectoral unemployment and EI claimant processes. Similarly, researchers use EI data in developing reports and updates on labour market indicators and the nature of unemployment in certain occupations. This provides job searchers and career practitioners with timely information on the effect of employment insurance on the labour market.

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