If you’ve been thinking about quitting your job without another one lined up, you may have wondered whether you’ll be able to receive the Canadian government’s EI benefit.
The answer to this is usually no, but you may be eligible in some cases. It really depends on why you quit and what steps you took beforehand to prevent having to result in leaving. So read on before blindly submitting your two weeks notice.
What is EI?
EI, or employment insurance, is a program designed to temporarily assist those that are unemployed with their finances. It is overseen by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (CEIC) to help Canadians and those legally allowed to work in the country.
When people mention EI, they are most likely referring to the regular benefits. Regular EI benefits are bi-weekly payments issued to those that lost their job for reasons that weren’t their fault (eg. workforce reduction or seasonal contract). You also need to be ready, willing, and capable of work – but you just can’t find a position at the moment.
There is no set amount for the regular benefit that applies to everyone. Instead, most people will receive about 55% of their average insurable weekly earnings. There is, however, a set maximum to the benefit, and as of January 2021, the maximum was $595 per week ($1,190 for bi-weekly payments or $2,380 for a 4-week month).
The period length you can receive the regular benefit for also depends on an individual basis. It ranges from 14 to 45 weeks. If you’re a seasonal worker looking to claim EI, you can potentially extend your benefits for an extra 5 weeks, bringing the maximum to 50 weeks. This number is calculated using the unemployment rate in your region and the number of insurable hours you worked within the last 52 weeks or since your last EI claim – whichever time frame is less. To find the maximum number of weeks you’re personally entitled to, view Canada’s calculation table.
NOTE: There may be changes to the EI regular benefits program due to COVID-19.
You can also get EI for reasons unrelated to being laid off. The employment insurance program also offers special benefits, including financial assistance to those who are unemployed because of maternity, paternity, sickness, family caregiving, or compassionate care.
Keep in mind that EI sickness benefits only provide payments for up to 15 weeks. If you’re diagnosed with an illness like cancer, EI won’t be enough. So if your employer doesn’t have any short-term or long-term disability benefits, consider purchasing disability insurance of your own.
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Who is eligible for EI?
Along with being unemployed, EI is only offered to Canadians and those legally allowed to work in Canada. You must also have a SIN and stay within the country for the benefit period (with some exceptions, such as attending a funeral abroad) – so despite finally having all that free time on your hands, you won’t be able to collect EI from a beach in Cancun.
You could qualify for regular EI benefits if:
- Your job was considered insurable employment (authorized by an employer in Canada)
- The reason you lost your job wasn’t your fault (e.g. work shortage or seasonal contract)
- In the last 52 weeks, you haven’t been paid for a minimum of 7 straight days
- In the last 52 weeks or since your last EI claim – whichever is shorter – you worked the required number of insurable hours (between 420 and 700 hours, contingent on your region’s unemployment rate)
- You’re willing, ready, and capable of work
- You’re looking for a new job actively and are keeping a record of your search (see more below)
You could be denied regular EI benefits if:
- You voluntarily left your job without having a just cause
- You are unemployed because of misconduct
- You are taking part in a labour dispute (e.g. strike)
NOTE: There may be changes to the EI regular benefits qualifications due to COVID-19.
Can you get EI if you quit?
The answer is yes and no.
You can still get benefits for maternity, paternity, sickness, and compassionate care if you qualify for those after quitting your job. And if you’re able to prove that you had a just cause (eg. sexual harassment, racial discrimination – see full list below) for voluntarily leaving, you could still be eligible to receive the regular EI benefits.
If you voluntarily leave your position without just cause, however, you won’t be granted the regular benefits. So don’t expect to collect your bi-weekly cheque in the mail if you quit simply because you were overwhelmed or you dislike your boss.
Below, we’ll cover the situations that are recognized as voluntarily leaving for a just cause, and how the Canadian government will determine if you’re entitled to the regular EI benefit.
What is voluntarily leaving?
As an employee, voluntarily leaving means taking the initiative yourself to end the employment, not your employer.
If you don’t take every reasonable step to avoid unemployment before quitting, your reason for leaving won’t be considered a just cause – and you won’t be able to receive regular EI benefits.
Although you may feel that quitting is the only plausible solution, a government agent may not see it the same way. If you have questions about your specific case, you can also speak to an EI representative ahead of time by calling 1-800-206-7218. It’s important to analyze and consider any measures or resources you have access to before making the final decision.
For example, if you’re thinking of quitting because of reasons related to the work environment, you could:
- Talk through the issue with your employer
- Use resources from your employment contract (speak with your HR department)
- Transfer to another team or division (or explore the possibility of doing so)
- Visit the Canadian legislation Acts or Regulations
In cases where you don’t deliberately want to leave your job, but you feel the need to because of a sudden event (eg. loss of transportation or childcare), you still need to take every reasonable step to avoid unemployment. For instance, if you no longer have childcare arrangements, you could:
- Explore the possibility of working from home
- Explore the possibility of working different hours
- Ask your friends or family to babysit
- Ask for a temporary leave of absence
After taking all the necessary steps to avoid leaving, you still might feel that quitting is the only solution in your circumstances. If this is the case, you could potentially qualify for regular EI benefits.
What is just cause for EI?
The government of Canada lists the following situations as just causes, provided that quitting is the only reasonable solution within your circumstances.
- Harassment (sexual or other types)
- Moving with a spouse or a dependent child to another place of residence
- Discrimination (eg. racial, sex, age)
- Unhealthy or unsafe workplace conditions (eg. exposure to a toxin)
- Need to provide for an immediate family member (for causes such a life-threatening illness, an accident, or distress)
- Reasonable assurance of an employment opportunity in the immediate future that falls through (eg. you’re promised another job to start the week after you quit, but it gets delayed, shortened, or cancelled)
- Major terms and conditions change with an impact on salary
- Excessive overtime hours, or an employer’s refusal to provide overtime pay
- Major work duties change
- Difficult supervisor relationship which you are not primarily at fault for
- Law-breaking employer
- Discrimination based on the membership of an organization, association, or union
- Peer pressure to quit from an employer or co-workers
For more information, visit Canada’s list of 40 main reasons which may justify voluntarily leaving. Each reason also comes with suggested alternatives to take before you decide to quit.
Employee and employer reporting
You and your employer may be asked to disclose information regarding why you quit voluntarily. This information is used to make a fair decision on whether your cause is just, and ultimately if you’ll be eligible to receive the regular EI benefits.
As an employee, you’ll be responsible for providing your own story. Why did you leave your job? What steps or alternatives did you take before you realized quitting was the only solution? Be ready to share these details if you believe there is a just cause in your case. On your employer’s end, they’ll be also expected to provide details, particularly about the work environment.
After interpreting all the facts, a government agent will make the final decision as to whether your cause is justified according to the law and the Employment Insurance Act.
Can you get EI if you quit for a company downsize?
EI can be claimed during a workforce reduction if you’re given the opportunity to voluntarily quit. The downsizing company, however, must be able to show that your layoff protects someone else’s job and that it is permanent. During a workforce reduction, it’s also a good idea to speak with an EI officer ahead of time to make sure you (or your employees) can receive assistance with employment insurance.
Can you get EI if you quit before the end of your job term?
Let’s say your employment contract is about to end in three weeks, but you decide you may as well quit now to relieve yourself from work earlier. If you do so without a just cause, you can still receive regular EI benefits, but it works a little differently.
If you voluntarily leave within three weeks of your employment ending, you won’t be eligible for regular EI benefits during the period you were supposed to still be employed for – so essentially your first day off to date that would’ve been your last. After this period, you’ll also need to wait another 2 weeks before you receive your first regular EI benefit.
You can still receive the special benefits for paid maternity, paternity, sickness, and compassionate care if you quit early, as long as they apply to your case.
Can you get EI for an authorized period of leave?
If you take an unpaid period of leave from your job voluntarily, such as for a mental health reset, it is considered the same as quitting. Therefore, you’ll need to prove that you left for a just cause to be eligible for the regular benefits. You can, however, still receive paid maternity, paternity, sickness, or compassionate care benefits if they apply to your case.
The bottom line
You can potentially receive regular EI benefits after quitting if you can prove that your cause is justified and you take all the reasonable measures to avoid being unemployed beforehand. On the other hand, if you don’t have a just cause to back up your departure, make sure you’re comfortable with your finances as you won’t have EI in your back pocket.
To be extra proactive, you can also look into keeping an emergency fund in your high-interest savings account (HISA) or tax-free savings account (TFSA). It’s always a good idea to have some extra cash on hand, in case you decide it’s time to leave your job and need a fallback, other than EI.