2016 was a year of firsts, not the least of which was the first time I’ve used employment insurance (EI). It’s something I’ve paid into (on and off) since I was 18, and at 30 I finally had a need for it when I moved to another city for my husband’s new job.
Over the last several months of receiving EI, I’ve learned quite a bit about the nuances, and a lot of it is information I just wasn’t able to find online. I didn’t find the Service Canada resources very clear, and it’s also really hard to get a hold of them over the phone. Overall, it has been a positive experience, as I’ve been able to actively look for work while having some of the financial burden lifted from both my husband and me. While I don’t always agree with the rules and decisions I’ve been subjected to, I understand that the system is imperfect, and blanket solutions aren’t always fair. When I get frustrated, I tell myself it’s a small price to pay for my (modest) financial cushion.
Without further ado, here are a few of my learnings this year when it comes to EI. I hope they’re as useful to you as they would’ve been to me a few months ago!
To receive payment, you must remain in Canada
This is something I knew off the bat, so when it came time to take three ‘working days’ off to head to the States for a family wedding, I made sure to notify Service Canada. You must notify them because they do cross check with border security and there are serious penalties for not reporting absence. For the days you are out of country, you do not get paid. In my case, I filled out the forms saying I was still reachable while away and that I was still ready to come back within 48 hours should an opportunity arise (I knew this was highly unlikely as I went from a Wednesday to Friday). I thought an exception would be made, but alas I lost three days of claim. It’s hardly a big deal but I did try to contest because I was corresponding with job prospects while on my trip via email, and even landed a freelance gig while away. I sent this evidence but got a call back telling me that the rules are fairly black and white so regardless of my evidence and reasoning, the fact that I was away essentially meant I wasn’t available to work.
Learning: Stay in Canada, or be prepared to pay.
You can work part time or freelance, but you’re basically volunteering
Midway through my claim, I decided that while pursuing full time opportunities, freelance work would be a great solution to supplement my income. After quite a bit of digging, I learned that I was welcome to do this, but that my EI would be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned. For example, if I made an extra $1,000 in a month, my EI was reduced by $500 – so the net effect is a $500 increase in income. Is it worth all the time and effort? In my case I decided it was, for the contacts I’d make, the portfolio I’d build, and the gap in my resume I was able to successfully fill by becoming an entrepreneur.
Additionally, the first time I claimed income, I had to speak to a ‘self employment specialist’ over the phone to explain my situation, the nature of my work, and the hours I spent. I didn’t learn until the end of the call, but the purpose of the call was to ensure my self-employment wasn’t hindering my search for a full time job. So…basically they didn’t want me to be doing it?
Learning: EI doesn’t seem to encourage self-employment or part-time work, as they see it as detracting from a job search. Check.
Become pregnant on EI? You may be entitled to additional weeks of entitlement
Alas, it happened. I started growing a human inside me while still on my claim. It made things weird, to say the least, and made the job search a bit trickier – it’s the reason I chose the freelance work alternative. During my latest call with EI, I was informed that while my total claim was 38 weeks long, I had a total of 52 weeks within which I could use the claim. This is an important distinction, as initially I thought I had a total of 52 weeks of payments.
Because I became pregnant during my claim, I was informed that my 38 weeks could be extended to include 14 weeks of maternity benefits, taking my claim up until the 52-week maximum allotment. I’m able to switch from regular benefits to maternity two months before my due date, so once I do that, my benefits get extended by 14 weeks. This was a huge relief to me, as it means I’ll at least have payment for a bit of time post-baby.
Learning: If your life circumstances change, be sure to look into all your options as you may be entitled to additional coverage.
You cannot go on two claims back to back
For instance, as much as I’d love to take my full regular EI and then another full year of mat leave EI, it just isn’t feasible. What’s funny to me, though, is that you need something like 600 hours (the equivalent of about four months of work) to qualify for another full year, yet working thousands of hours over the last few years doesn’t qualify you for multiple years. I again found this frustrating, but understand that many would abuse the system if this were allowed!
Learning: If you think you’ll need a second EI claim, try your hardest to secure work for a few months – due to something legitimate, of course, don’t abuse the system!
There you have it, folks. These are my key learnings from being on EI. It’s a love-hate relationship, but mostly love. After all, I’m lucky to live in a country with a social security net that allowed me to support my husband on a move, and also continues to support me while pregnant. Don’t even get me started on the States and their idea of ‘maternity leave.’
If you have any other questions about EI, how to qualify, and what it entails, please drop me an email and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Thank you for reading!