Backgrounder: Employment Insurance waiting period

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada has introduced comprehensive changes to the Employment Insurance program that benefits:

1. Workers

The new measures include eliminating new entrant and re-entrant rules, reducing the two-week waiting period, working while on claim and simplifying job search responsibilities for EI claimants.

2. Caregivers

For example, Canadians can now count of the following: family caregivers for adults, and children, and compasion care.

3. Parents

This includes maternity, and parental benefits and leaves, in addition to parental sharing benefits.

1. SUPPORT FOR WORKERS

Reducing the two-week waiting period to one week

The Employment Insurance (EI) waiting period is a period of time that must be served before a claimant can begin to receive EI benefits.  It has been set at two weeks since 1971. Shortening the waiting period eases the financial strain for EI claimants and puts an estimated additional $650 million in the pockets of Canadians annually beginning next year, that is for those who do not exhaust their maximum entitlement to benefits.

The Government of Canada announced the EI waiting period would be reduced from two weeks to one week, effective January 1, 2017. The waiting period acts as a deductible similar to other kinds of insurance. As a result of legislative changes which came into effect on January 1, 2017, the waiting period is one week for claims starting on that date or later. The reduction of the waiting period applies to all types of EI benefits: regular, fishing, sickness, maternity, parental, compassionate care, Family Caregiver benefits.

While claimants are still entitled to the same maximum number of weeks of EI benefits, the waiting period may have indirect implications for workers and employers who have top-up arrangements that supplement EI. Reducing the waiting period shifts forward the period during which EI benefits are payable. In some cases, employer payments that supplement EI maternity and parental benefits may be aligned to the two-week waiting period and the reduction of the waiting period may have impacts for workers or employers.

To lessen the potential impact on employers and their workers, employers with existing short term disability plans that were registered with the Premium Reduction Program prior to January 1, 2017, have a four-year transitional period (Until January 2, 2021) to align their plans to the new one week standard. During the trasitional period, these employers will continue to receive premium reductions.

Eliminating new entrant and re-entrant rules

The Government amended the rules to eliminate the higher EI eligibility requirements that restricted access for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market. Under the previous rules, new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market had to accumulate at least 910 hours of insurable employment before being eligible for EI regular benefits.

Since July 3, 2016, new entrants and re-entrants have faced the same eligibility requirements as other claimants in the region where they live (between 420 hours to 700 hours of insurable employment).

Simplifying job search responsibilities for EI claimants

The Government reversed the 2012 changes to the EI program that strictly defined the job search responsibilities of unemployed workers and forced them to move away from their communities and take lower paying jobs. Long-standing requirements that claimants must search for and accept available work while on EI continues to be upheld. This change took effect on July 3, 2016.

Working While on Claim

Working While on Claim (WWC) allows EI claimants to earn some additional income while receiving EI benefits and helps them stay connected to the job market. To better meet the needs of Canadians, the Government of Canada introduced the following improvements to WWC, which took effect August 2018:

  • the 50 cents for every dollar earned rule becomes a permanent part of the EI program; and

  • the WWC rules are extended to now apply to sickness and maternity benefits.


2 .SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS

Family caregiver benefit for adults

Since December 3, 2017, the new family caregiver benefit for adults announced in Budget 2017 allows eligible Canadians to receive up to 15 weeks of benefits to provide care or support to an adult family member 18 years of age or older who is critically ill (i.e. whose life is at risk as a result of illness or injury and has experienced a significant change in their baseline state of health).

Family caregiver benefit for children

Up to 35 weeks of benefits continues to be available while providing care or support to a child under 18 years of age who is critically ill (i.e. whose life is at risk as a result of illness or injury and who has experienced a significant change in their baseline state of health).

Since December 3, 2017, this benefit, formerly known as the Parents of Critically Ill Children benefit, has been renamed the Family Caregiver benefit for children. Eligibility was extended to any eligible family member providing care to the child, rather than being limited to parents. The definition of family member has been broadened to include relatives beyond the immediate family and individuals who are not relatives but are considered to be like family. For example, an aunt or uncle could be eligible to receive the benefit to provide care to a critically ill child. These changes were introduced to accommodate the needs of diverse family situations and provide enhanced flexibility and access to this benefit.

Medical doctors and nurse practitioners are allowed to sign a medical certificate to certify that a child is critically ill, rather than only specialist medical doctors.

Claimants can share these family caregiver benefits either concurrently or separately, and receive their benefits when most needed within a 52-week period.

Compassionate care benefit

The compassionate care benefit provides up to 26 weeks of benefits to individuals who are away from work to care for or support a family member who has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death in the next 26 weeks.

If the health condition of the family member deteriorates, caregivers could receive the family caregiver benefit followed by the compassionate care benefit.

Since December 3, 2017, a medical certificate signed by a medical doctor or nurse practitioner is acceptable when applying for the compassionate care benefit.


3. SUPPORT FOR PARENTS

EI maternity benefits

The Employment Insurance (EI) program provides temporary income support to replace lost employment income for individuals who are off work due to pregnancy and childbirth, and caring for a newborn or newly adopted child.

EI maternity benefits provide up to 15 weeks of benefits to EI-eligible birth mothers, including surrogates, related to childbearing and to support physical and/or emotional recovery during the weeks surrounding the birth. These benefits are currently payable as early as 12 weeks prior to the expected week of birth of the child.


Since December 3, 2017, pregnant workers can claim the existing 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits as early as 12 weeks before the expected week of birth of the child, up from the former 8 weeks. This provides pregnant workers with more flexibility to better take into account their personal, health and workplace circumstances when choosing when to begin receiving their maternity benefits.

Maternity benefits continue to be paid at the current benefit rate of 55 percent of average weekly earnings up to a maximum amount.

EI parental benefits

For children born or placed for adoption since December 3, 2017, claimants have had the option to choose the standard parental benefit, as originally provided in the Employment Insurance Act, or an extended parental benefit which provides a lower benefit rate over a longer duration (up to 18 months).

  • Standard parental benefit

    Receiving EI parental benefits over a period of up to 12 months, at a benefit rate of 55 percent of average weekly earnings, for up to 35 weeks, up to a maximum amount.

    These weeks of benefits are payable in the period that begins the week in which the child or children of the claimant are born or the child or children are placed with the claimant for the purpose of adoption, and ends 52 weeks later.

  • Extended parental benefits

    Receiving EI parental benefits over a period of up to 18 months, at a lower benefit rate of 33 percent of average weekly earnings, for up to 61 weeks, up to a maximum amount.

    These weeks of benefits are payable in the period that begins the week in which the child or children of the claimant are born or the child or children are placed with the claimant for the purpose of adoption, and ends 78 weeks later.

    Parents need to choose the same parental benefit (standard or extended) when applying for EI benefits and indicate how many weeks they each plan to take. Parents are able to receive the benefits at the same time or separately. The choice of standard or extended benefits by the first claimant who completes the EI application selection (on a complete application) is binding for the two claimants.

    Once parental benefits have begun being paid on a claim, even as little as $1, the parent’s choice is irrevocable and not subject to reconsideration or appeal under the Employment Insurance Act.

Parental sharing benefit

Employment Insurance (EI) parental benefits are available to EI-eligible parents, allowing either parent to take time off work to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. The most common scenario in Canada, however, is the mother taking on the primary caregiving responsibilities. While the second parent may take on many household and caregiving responsibilities, child care duties continue to fall disproportionately to mothers, both in the short term following the arrival of their child, and over the longer term, often due to the challenges of re‑entering the workforce after time spent away.

Budget 2018 announced the Employment Insurance parental sharing benefit, which provides additional weeks of benefits to families when the parents of a newborn or newly adopted child share parental benefits. 

With the sharing benefit, parents selecting the standard duration of parental benefits could receive up to 40 weeks of parental benefits, an increase from the current 35 weeks. No parent could access more than 35 weeks in total, requiring both parents to take some time off in order to access some or all of the additional weeks.

Parents selecting the extended duration of parental benefits could receive up to 69 weeks of parental benefits, an increase from the current 61 weeks. No parent could access more than 61 weeks in total, requiring both parents to take some time off in order to access some or all of the additional weeks.

Both parents must choose the same parental benefits option (standard or extended). Benefits can be accessed at the same time or separately.

It will be available to parents who make a claim for parental benefits for children born or placed for adoption on or after March 17, 2019.

Since 2006, the Québec Parental Insurance Plan offers maternity, parental, adoption and paternity benefits to residents of the province of Quebec. Accordingly, Quebec residents are not eligible for EI maternity or parental benefits. The Plan is the only federal–provincial agreement related to maternity and parental benefits currently in place.


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