EI: Employment Insurance Basics

December 4, 2019

Life circumstances change and can have an impact on a person’s ability to make ends meet financially. Dismissals, pregnancy, illness, accident and other family duties can put pressures on people and make it necessary to alter their regular work. The Government of Canada’s priority is to offer a number of programs to help buffer the financial hardships faced under these circumstances. One of these programs is employment insurance (EI).  

People who lose their jobs and who do not immediately have another job to go to may qualify for employment insurance.  Below we set out some information that will help explain what employment insurance is and how to go about qualifying and applying for it. 


Employment insurance used to be called Unemployment Insurance until 1996. It is a program run by the government to provide benefit payments during a period of unemployment. In Canada, employers and employees pay into the program to finance its operations. As well, the federal government makes contributions as required.

To qualify for benefits, individuals must work a certain number of hours – the duration of benefits depends on an individual’s geographic region’s unemployment rate. Employers contribute a certain amount of employee premiums. Since 1990, the Government of Canada has not had to make a contribution to the fund. 

The employment insurance system is an important program offered by the government to provide an economic safety net — it provides greater income security for Canadians. That being said, employment insurance should not be considered an option to replace a full-time salary. It is strictly “insurance” – an income supplement to help people survive between jobs or in times of other need.  For most people, employment insurance benefits will not be enough to replace the full salary that they have lost. Some people will not qualify for employment insurance because they may not have worked long enough to qualify. Some people are disqualified because they have caused their job loss. As well, employment insurance benefits are time limited. While receiving them, a person must be actively looking for work.  

Regular Benefit Program

The regular benefit program is available to people who lose their jobs without cause through no fault of their own (i.e. shortage of work or because they were employed in seasonal work), are available and willing to work but cannot find a job. 

EI benefits are available from 14 weeks up to a maximum of 45. The specific duration depends on the unemployment rate in the specific region and the amount of insurable hours that have been accumulated in the last year. 


A person who worked for a long time and lives in an area with high unemployment will receive benefits for a longer period than someone who has worked less and lives in an area with lower unemployment.

Exceptions to the regular benefit program — Fired for cause

Employees who get fired for cause, or “misconduct” will not be eligible for regular EI benefits. Getting fired for cause or “misconduct” means that the employee did something wrong on purpose and this circumstance results in refusals.

For more information on when an Employee can be terminated “for cause”, you can read my earlier article: Termination of the Employment Relationship in Ontario.

Some examples of misconduct include:

  • Threatening or violent behaviour
  • Destroying company property on purpose
  • Being late or absent from work without permission
  • Disobeying an order from your employer

Misconduct cases are not easy to define. There are complex variables and circumstances. Employees should always apply for EI even if they were fired and then allow the investigation process to follow its course. Contacting an employment lawyer is also a recommended step in terms of understanding rights and appropriate actions.

Disputing a claim

It is possible to disagree with a decision Service Canada made on an Employment Insurance (EI) application for benefits. The process is to request a reconsideration of that decision from Service Canada. 

Before requesting any reconsideration, it is important to check for any information that could change the original decision – for example, documentations that was not already submitted or new information that could affect the application. Once documentation is collected, submit it to Service Canada immediately and they will review it to determine whether the original decision could change.

Once the process is complete and a person still disagrees with the decision, there is an option to file an appeal with the Social Security Tribunal General Division. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of receiving the original decision.

Additional Benefit Programs

In addition to regular EI payments, there are other income programs. Employment insurance benefits are available to eligible claimants who:

  • are sick 
  • are having or adopting children 
  • provide compassionate care for someone – this can include their critically ill children
  • are self-employed – however they have to pay into it at the same rate as a regular employee

 How to apply for EI benefits

The Online EI Application Process Explained:

When someone loses their job, their employer provides them with a “record of employment”. This document is required to apply for EI benefits.  Sometimes the employer will send it to the government directly and if that happens, a person can get it from the government. Once a person loses their job they should apply for EI as soon as possible.  If they delay benefits may be reduced. 

The first step to applying for EI is completing an application process used to determine if a person is eligible for benefits. Access to it is online and it takes about 60 minutes to complete. If the person is disconnected during the process, their information will not be saved. Hence, it is important to have the required information close by before the EI online application begins.

The following is a list of the information required to complete the EI online application:

  • Postal code 
  • Social Insurance Number (SIN)
  • Date of birth
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Address and postal code of residence
  • Gross salary – total earnings before deductions including tips and commissions
  • Gross salary from Sunday to your last day of work
  • Vacation pay that was received or will be received
  • Severance pay that was received or will be received
  • Pension that was received or will be received
  • Pay in lieu of notice that was received or will be received
  • Other money – specify what it is
  • Name, address, dates of employment and reason for separation — list the information of all employers in the last 52 weeks.
  • Dates over the weeks 52 weeks when there was no work, no money received and why
  • Dates and amounts for weeks in the last 52 weeks when earnings were less than $225.00 before deductions
  • If applying for Status Indian tax exemption state band number
  • Banking information — to enable direct deposit of Employment Insurance benefits.

Additional information is required when making an application for other program benefits as follows:

  • If applying for Employment Insurance parental benefits — the SIN of the other parent
  • If applying for Employment Insurance sickness benefits — the doctor’s name, address, and telephone number. The expected date of recovery may also be required.
  • If applying for Employment Insurance compassionate care benefits — information about the ill family member

Note: When submitting an EI application online, the paper copy of the Record of Employment must be submitted by mail or in person to a Service Canada office as soon as possible. 

How do employers process EI premiums?

The Canada Economic Insurance Commission (CEIC) plays a leadership role, with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), in overseeing the Employment Insurance (EI) program. In September 2019 it announced that the 2020 Employment Insurance (EI) premium rate will be set at $1.58 per $100 of insurable earnings. Employers deduct the employment insurance (EI) premiums from an employee’s insurable earnings. Insurable earnings is defined as earnings from employment under any “contract of service” – namely employer-employee relationship. 

Employment insurance premiums stop when an employee’s income reaches a specific threshold set by the CEIC. The Maximum Insurable Earnings (MIE) for 2020 will increase to $54,200 from $53,100 in 2019. This amount is set for a year and represents the ceiling up to which EI premiums are collected.  What this means is that if a person earns more than the $54,200 the government uses that ceiling as the benefit marker — a person will be paying into the EI fund based on that salary and similarly, benefits received will be based on that maximum figure – not their past salary. So EI benefits will not replace income in full.

How are EI claims managed?

Information about Employment Insurance (EI) claims can be obtained through a My Service Canada Account (MSCA). People can also register for Alert-Me to receive e-mail alerts when important new EI claim information is available in the MSCA. To set up an account a person needs an EI Access code, which can be found on the first benefit statement. If it cannot be found, a person can call 1-800-206-7218 between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm local time or go to a Service Canada Office.

It is important to be accurate when filling out required reports.  Some examples of mistakes that can be made when filing out reports are as follows:

  • Not putting the actual amount earned but rather estimating the number
  • Declaring net earnings instead of gross earnings
  • Failing to declare all the earnings received
  • Entering the wrong earnings number 
  • Incorrectly adding the number of hours or amount of earnings

Certain mistakes can delay benefit payments while others can affect the amount of benefits paid — meaning a person may be paid more or less than what they were entitled to receive. Once any mistake is noticed or if there are any changes in circumstances, Service Canada should be notified promptly. This will prevent any future problems with a claim.


Knowingly withholding information, make misleading statements, or misrepresenting the facts to make a false claim for benefits is considered misrepresentation. People who do this can face severe monetary penalties or prosecution. 

Misrepresentation affects future benefits. If a person discloses actions to Service Canada before any investigation begins, they may avoid monetary penalties and prosecutions that may otherwise apply.

EI Telephone Information Service

An automated telephone service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those who prefer to speak to a representative can call 1 800 206-7218 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, and press “0.” The line offers general information about the EI program, the Social Insurance Number (SIN), and specific details on an EI claim.

Information about claims is updated every morning from Monday to Friday. To access information about a personal EI claim, a person will need to provide their SIN and access code which is found on the benefit statement that is mailed to claimants after they apply for EI benefits.

Justin W. Anisman

Anisman Law

Justin W. Anisman is an Employment Lawyer and principal of Anisman Law. Justin advises both companies and individuals in all aspects of employment law including wrongful dismissal, human rights and discrimination.

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