History of the Canadian Unemployment Insurance program
Unemployment in Canada before 1929
At the beginning of the 20th century, seasonal unemployment was a characteristic of the labour market and the major cause of poverty.
In 1918, the federal government passed legislation to create a national network of government placement offices. At the same time, unions began to call for a Canadian unemployment insurance system. The government replied to them that market economy would ultimately resolve the unemployment problem. The market had to be left to operate without restraints!
Help for the unemployed came from the cities. The federal government merely created the Patriotic Fund, which compensated unemployed people who had contributed to the war effort, and agreed to pay a third of the costs incurred by the cities to help persons who were unemployed.
1929: The stock market crash
Between 1929 and 1933, the number of unemployed persons in Canada increased from 107,000 to 646,000. The Conservative Party was in hot water, and put in place temporary funding measures for the provinces, for their programs to assist unemployed persons. Direct aid was the preferred method. However, the economic crisis persisted, and more and more unemployed people travelled the country, looking for work. The government feared political agitation, and began to create work camps, primarily targeting young unmarried men, who were without a home or employment. If they refused to go to the work camps, they would be refused any federal assistance. More than 20,000 unemployed men were located in work camps (including 1,900 in Valcartier, in the Quebec region). Working conditions were terrible, and the men received pay of $0.20 per day. To combat this situation, organizations of unemployed people sprung up throughout the country. A number of cities became the scene of demonstrations by unemployed people.
The situation heated up in 1935. The men who were packed into work camps started to go on strike (this movement began in British Columbia). In May 1935, the unemployed initiated a Great March to Ottawa. The Bennett government suppressed the movement in Saskatchewan; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intervened, and the leaders of the movement were arrested. The strategy of repression of the unemployed and the promise of an unemployment insurance plan (influenced by the American New Deal) caused the Conservatives to lose power in the elections.
In June 1940, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King, in agreement with the provinces, requested that the constitution be amended in England so that the government would have jurisdiction over unemployment insurance matters. On July 12, the amendment was accepted by the British Parliament. Finally, on August 7, 1940, the Unemployment Insurance Act was approved by the Canadian government, and 42% of the workforce became eligible for the new unemployment insurance plan.
1940 to 1975: Rise of state interventionism in unemployment
The 1940 Unemployment Insurance Act was, to a large extent, modelled on the British system (inaugurated in 1911). At this time, the benefits that were granted did not cover people’s basic needs. The level of entitlement was limited, because many jobs held on a seasonal basis (fishing, agriculture and forestry sectors) were not covered by the plan.
Between 1940 and 1975, the Unemployment Insurance program was expanded, and two major reforms were made. The first, in 1955, increased coverage for seasonal work and included other categories of contributors. The system now covered 75% of the workforce.
The second reform, which was based on Bryce Mackasey’s White Paper, put in place the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1971. This Act placed the role of unemployment insurance in an overall social and economic context. The regime was now made universal, covering 96% of the workforce. The number of weeks required to be eligible for unemployment insurance was eight weeks over the last 52 weeks, and the benefit rate was increased significantly, to 66 2/3% of insurable earnings, and to 75% for claimants with one or more dependants. Special benefits appeared (for sickness and maternity), but were available only to people who had worked more than 20 weeks. Penalties for voluntary leaving, dismissal for misconduct or refusing suitable employment amounted to a maximum loss of three weeks of benefits. The waiting period was increased from five days to two weeks.
1975 to 1988: Challenges to state interventionism in unemployment
The actors on the world economic scene challenged the interventionism of states in the area of unemployment. What was called neoliberalism, but was in fact a return to extreme capitalism, extended its grasp and began to dominate discourse in the area of unemployment. People began to suggest that unemployed people were responsible for their situation! Responsibility for unemployment was shifted to the victims.
Three waves of reform reduced access to the plan:
In 1975, Bill C-69 abolished the 75% benefit rate for unemployed persons with dependants. For voluntary leaving and misconduct, the maximum disqualification was doubled to six weeks.
In 1977, Bill C-27 introduced the variable entitlement standard. From that point on, the number of work weeks required to be eligible for benefits varied according to the regional unemployment rate. The Unemployment Insurance program was also used to create active employment measures (occupational training, new programs for preserving or creating jobs). It was at this time that government began to use the money in the Unemployment Insurance fund for purposes other than compensation for job loss.
In 1978, Bill C-14 tightened entitlement criteria, and workers now had to accumulate more work weeks to qualify. The benefit rate was reduced to 60%.
It was around this time that a number of advocacy groups for the unemployed began to appear in Quebec. Their actions focused particularly on the direct action concept.
From 1980 to 1988, few changes were made to the Unemployment Insurance program. A number of reports on the program, produced during this period, advocated government disengagement, in other words, a more flexible and competitive scheme to adapt to the new free trade context. These reports, which met with opposition from the union and grassroots movements, were shelved.
1988 to 2006: The beginning of the end…
The domination of free trade and neoliberalism
Following the elections of 1988, with NAFTA on the horizon and at the behest of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada modified its social programs.
In 1990, the government severely cut back the Unemployment Insurance program and stopped financing the UI Fund. Bill C-21 increased the disqualification of workers and made the system more repressive. At that time, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) estimated that 130,000 unemployed people would no longer be entitled to benefits, including 44,000 in Quebec. The government withdrew completely from financing the Fund (which had always had tripartite financing, by the government, employees and employers). This reform, which was hotly contested and had a devastating effect, was blocked in the Senate for several months, but was finally passed in October 1990.
In 1993, the Conservative government launched a new reform, Bill C-113. Once more, the system was cut back! The benefit rate was reduced from 60% to 57% of average earnings. Above all, people now lost the right to regular benefits if their voluntary leaving was “unjustified” or they were dismissed for “misconduct”. Freedom to work was now under attack.
In 1994, the Liberals came into power, and despite their opposition to the previous reform of the Conservatives, they made further reforms to the Unemployment Insurance plan with Bill C-17. Claimants suffered a loss of 9 to 16 weeks of benefits, depending on their region, and the rate dropped from 57% to 55%. In this way, the government intended to reduce the deficit of the UI Fund ($6 billion). We need to remember that this deficit was created by the withdrawal of government funding for the Fund and by the cost of the new active measures. The Unemployment Insurance program increasingly reflected Canada’s “pro-market” orientation.
In 1996, the Liberals decided that unemployment had to be eliminated (at least in words) and decided that the place to start was to eliminate the unemployed! In Bill C-12, they attacked those whose position on the labour market was the most vulnerable (precarious employment in the form of part-time, on-call or seasonal work, etc.). This was the logic behind the introduction of measures like the “divisor” and the “rate calculation period”, whose impact on the benefit rate was to financially penalise claimants. Furthermore, by considering hours of work rather than weeks to determine qualification for unemployment benefits, the government required more work time (more than double!) for entitlement. The impact of this reform was soon felt… Although 500,000 new contributors joined the Fund, the plan’s coverage (then 80%) was reduced by half (to about 40%), and the Unemployment Insurance Fund freed up surpluses that the government would raid.
For the government, the Unemployment Insurance program became a true gold mine, which the government raided to the detriment of workers. The government sometimes made promises, the better to camouflage its inaction and refusal to do anything to resolve the real problems, which were:
These reforms, which were made to the unemployment insurance plan during the 1990s, had a drastic impact on the unemployed. However, they also had significant effects on the labour market as a whole, exercising downward pressure on wages and working conditions. This was one of the legacies of the application of policies arising from the current capitalist offensive.
Raiding the Unemployment Insurance Fund
When the Canadian Unemployment Insurance system was created in 1940, the Fund was financed by contributions, in equal proportions, of employers, employees and the government. In addition, the government provided a supplemental amount equivalent to 20% of total employee and employer contributions, and assumed the operating costs of the plan. The Unemployment Insurance Fund is a specific account funded out of general Treasury revenues (Consolidated Revenue Fund). In the Unemployment Insurance Act, it is specified that the Fund must be used to pay benefits, and that the Fund’s money cannot be used for other purposes.
Before Bill C-21 (1990), the Conservative government decided to withdraw from financing the Unemployment Insurance Fund. It is noteworthy that the Conservative party had made an election promise not to touch social programs!. After its victory, the party launched its Canadian Labour Force Development Strategy, which involved using the Unemployment Insurance program for active purposes. It became clearer that the programs of training and adjustment to free trade would be financed on the backs of the unemployed.
In 1993, the Fund was in a deficit position, and the government further reduced the expenses of the plan (Bill C-113). The deficit, which was caused by the government’s withdrawal from financing the Fund, was used as an argument to justify the new cuts. The Liberals, who were then in the opposition, challenged these changes to the plan, just as they had opposed NAFTA (adopted on May 27, 1993) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). When the Liberals came to power, they produced a new wave of Unemployment Insurance cutbacks (Bill C-17), and retained the GST! The Unemployment Insurance Fund began to produce surpluses, and more of the money of unemployed people was siphoned off.
The surpluses continued to accumulate from 1996 on, and amounted to nearly $50 billion in 2005.
This money was siphoned out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, hence primarily out of our pockets.
The changes made to the plan by the Conservatives and the Liberals reduced the protection of workers against the risk of unemployment. Although the fund had been specifically set up to compensate workers who lost their employment, the government, seeing the Unemployment Insurance Fund as a “golden goose”, adapted the plan to the requirements of unrestrained capitalism and the free market. Its approach was that unemployment is the responsibility of the individual, not of the government!
In short, this approach advocated subjecting workers completely to the imperatives of productivity, competitiveness and the race for profits. The result was that many people who were not entitled to Unemployment Insurance became welfare recipients, had to depend on their spouses and families, or were obliged to empty their bank accounts or even spend their life savings, part of which had been put aside for their retirement.
In real life, and not in the fantasies, promises, visions and pipe dreams of capitalists, many citizens work for a discounted wage, in increasingly difficult conditions, out of fear of finding themselves with nothing! Not only are we far from a society where development of one’s personal potential should be the norm, but the outcome is often deterioration of physical and mental health, loss of confidence, withdrawal into oneself and isolation.
The most recent reforms, combined with the subsequent reductions to the contribution rate, will soon enable the government to tell us that it is impossible to improve the system. If there is an obstacle to upgrading the program, it is not economic but political. The government has completely altered the initial objective of the Unemployment Insurance program. This altering has not been imposed by the economic situation, but has been prescribed by the decision-makers in the worldwide market, for whom the well-being of people is the least of their concerns. Only the maximization of profit counts. This is called capitalism.
N.B. This text is a version that the MAC of Montreal has modified from a text written by the MASSE and published in the brochure “Les Sans-Chemises se mobilisent” [The shirtless mobilize].
The MAC of Montreal
In the early 1970s, residents of the St-Henri and Ville-Émard neighbourhoods decided to come together to defend their living conditions both at work and at home. They took action on issues concerning housing, work-related accidents, social assistance and unemployment insurance. These efforts gave birth to the Maison des chômeurs [Unemployed people’s house] and the Local populaire [Grassroots group]. These two groups later amalgamated to form a single entity, the Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal [Montreal unemployment action movement] (referred to hereafter as the “MAC”).
The MAC was involved in all the struggles to prevent the various governments in Ottawa from reducing access to unemployment insurance. In 1984, the MAC took part in preparing and holding the Great March for employment. In 1986 and 1987, the group fought against regulations that enabled the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission (CEIC) to deduct pension income from benefits, and appeared before the Forget Commission on unemployment insurance. From 1989 to 1994, the MAC took an active part in combating Bills C-21, C-113 and C-17, which made the Unemployment Insurance system even more restrictive. For example, the MAC appeared before committees of the House and Senate dealing with these bills. On the legal front, the MAC, in the Tétrault-Gadoury case, succeeded in seeing that the legal provisions that discriminated against persons 65 years of age and older were struck down. More recently, the MAC has opposed the passage of the Employment Insurance Act, another hard blow against the unemployed. The MAC has also been in the forefront of the fight against the linking of information between the unemployment authorities and Customs Canada concerning unemployed persons who travel. The group also participated actively in setting up the Mouvement Autonome et Solidaire des Sans-Emploi [Independent solidarity movement of the unemployed] (MASSE), an association dedicated to advocating for the unemployed, which brings together 13 groups in Quebec. In 2004, the MAC also prepared, with the collaboration of the IRIS, an improved version of the Act, in order to propose an alternative to the reforms which, since the early 1990s, have severely affected all unemployed people and opened the way to the shameless raiding of the Unemployment Insurance Fund.
Like any non-profit organization, the MAC relies on the efforts of its activists to carry on its work. Everyone who becomes a member of the organization supports its general objectives, which include to bring together unemployed people who are victims of technical and other problems involving the Department of Human Resources Development of Canada; and to acquire, organize and administer technical services in order to study, encourage, promote, protect, develop and serve the economic, social and political interests of its members. Membership in the MAC generally confers the right to participate in the decision-making process, at the annual general meeting in particular, and also to participate in the activities of the organization.
The MAC also provides an information and consulting service concerning the Employment Insurance Act. The brochure entitled “Practical Advice” is above all designed as a prevention tool that will enable you to avoid problems with the Act, which has been described by the Supreme Court of Canada as the second most complicated statute in Canada after the Income Tax Act.
The right to unemployment insurance
Three conditions to fulfil
To establish their right to a period of unemployment insurance benefits, claimants must primarily meet three conditions of entitlement:
When in doubt, it is always better to file an unemployment insurance claim. If your claim is denied or if you are deemed to be disentitled, you have remedies. Inform yourself by consulting a MAC counsellor.
First condition: insurable employment
For employment to be declared insurable, there must an employer-employee relationship. In other words, if the person who pays you is in a position to give you orders on the work to be done and on the manner in which the work is to be done, it is probable that your employment is insurable.
If your employment is insurable, you and your employer must pay unemployment insurance contributions. In the great majority of cases, if unemployment insurance contributions are deducted from your pay, your employment is insurable.
However, the fact that your employer does not deduct unemployment insurance contributions from your pay does not necessarily imply that your employment is not insurable. It may be that you have employment that meets the definition of insurable employment although your employer does not pay the contributions and deduct them from your pay. In that case, you can ask the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to rule on the insurability of your employment. If your employment is deemed to be insurable, your employer will have to pay its contributions and yours retroactively, and may ask you to pay these contributions to it.
A standard audit request form is available at the offices of Revenue Canada. It is, however, preferable to get information from the MAC before undertaking steps of this kind.
The Employment Insurance Act expressly disqualifies some employment from insurable employment. Since 1987, two grounds for disqualification have disappeared because they were found to be discriminatory: employment of a person over 65 years of age, and employment of a person working for his or her spouse. With the changes made in 1990, the government excludes from the unemployment insurance system persons who have a relationship with their employer that is “not at arm’s length” (the disqualification can apply not only to the spouse but also to the brother, sister, son, daughter, etc). If you are disqualified on this ground, challenge this decision.
Second condition: interruption of earnings
Generally speaking, an interruption of earnings occurs when a person is without work and without pay for a period of seven consecutive days with the same employer.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You do not have to wait seven days to file your claim. You simply have to know that you will not have work for seven days.
The amounts paid due to the termination of employment (vacation pay, severance pay, etc.) do not prevent an interruption of earnings from being recognized or the immediate establishment of a benefit period.
As soon as their employment is terminated, workers must file a claim for benefits. However, these amounts are earnings within the meaning of the Employment Insurance Act.1
1. See the section Allocation of amounts initially paid.
You need to remember the following points:
420 to 910 hours
The third condition of Insurable employment2
To receive benefits, a person must have accumulated between 420 and 910 hours of insurable employment in the qualifying period. This number of hours depends on the category of claimant to which you belong: regular claimant or new entrant.
Regarding this third condition, it should be pointed out that in 1971, 120 hours of insurable employment (eight weeks of 15 hours of insurable employment) were sufficient for entitlement to benefits, when the unemployment rate was 6%.
Since 1975, the various governments have reduced eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits by increasing the number of hours required for entitlement and by reducing the duration of benefits. At the same time, unemployment has continually increased. They have made war on the unemployed rather than on unemployment!
The qualifying period usually consists of the 52 weeks preceding the beginning of your benefit period. The beginning of the benefit period is the Sunday following your last day of work, if you file your claim within the prescribed period of time. You have four weeks to file your claim after your last day of work. If you file your claim late, your benefit period will usually begin the Sunday preceding your claim.
Example: You stop working on Friday, February 11, 2005, and file your claim three weeks later, on Friday, March 4, 2005. Your benefit period will thus begin retroactively on the Sunday following your last day of work, namely February 13, 2005.
Extension of the qualifying period
If, during your qualifying period, you have not held insurable employment for one of the following reasons:
your qualifying period will then be extended by an equivalent number of weeks, but may not exceed 104 weeks.
2. It should be noted that the number of hours required may be greater. Individuals who, in the five-year period preceding their claim, have been notified that they have committed violations (see glossary) will have to work more hours to qualify for the unemployment insurance plan. We should also point out that only penalties imposed after June 30, 1996 will be taken into consideration. See below under the heading Penalties for the number of hours required in this type of situation.
This extension makes it possible to go further back in the past and thus, in certain cases, obtain the necessary number of insurable hours of work to become entitled. If you meet one or more of the above-mentioned conditions, it is important to ask for this extension, because the number of insurable hours of work in your qualifying period is used to determine the number of weeks of benefits that you will be granted. (See the section Duration of benefits).
Insurable hours of employment
The necessary hours of employment do not have to be consecutive or be accumulated with the same employer. In fact, all hours worked are insurable if they are performed in connection with insurable employment.
In order to know the precise number of insurable hours of work that you need to have to be eligible for benefits, you must first determine whether you belong to the category of new entrants or regular claimants.
New entrants (individuals who are returning to the workforce)
A new entrant is a person who has less than 490 hours in the workforce during the period preceding the qualifying period (in administrative jargon, NERE), namely the 52 weeks preceding the qualifying period. Within the meaning of the Act, individuals are members of the workforce3 if they were:
To have access to unemployment benefits, new entrants have to have a minimum of 910 hours of insurable work in their qualifying period.
18/01/04 14/01/05 13/01/06
Period preceding the Qualifying period
Less than 490 hours 910 hours of insurable
in the workforce employment
The group of regular claimants includes all those who had 490 hours or more in the workforce in the period preceding their qualifying period (NERE). To be entitled to unemployment insurance benefits, you must have accumulated between 420 and 700 insurable hours of employment in your qualifying period. This number varies according to the regional unemployment rate that applies in your place of residence at the time your claim is established.4 You can obtain this rate from the office of Service Canada or by contacting the MAC of Montreal. Once you know your regional employment rate, Table 1 will give you the precise number of insurable hours of employment required in your case.
The new entrants category penalizes tens of thousands of people by requiring them to have more hours of work (910 hours) to be eligible for benefits if they have been out of the so-called “workforce” for a certain period of time or have not remained in the workforce long enough. Those particularly affected by this measure include young people, people who have recently arrived in the country, self-employed workers and persons on social assistance.
Note that if you request benefits in case of sickness or pregnancy or if you are a new parent, the number of insurable hours of work required is 600 hours in the qualifying period, regardless of what you did in the period preceding the qualifying period (NERE). 5
18/01/04 14/01/05 13/01/06
Period preceding the Qualifying period
490 hours or more 420 to 700 hours
in the workforce insurable hours of
employment (see Table 1)
The new entrants category penalizes tens of thousands of people by requiring them to have more hours of work (910 hours) to be eligible for benefits if they have been out of the so-called “workforce” for a certain period of time or have not remained in the workforce long enough. Those particularly affected by this measure include young people, people who have recently arrived in the country, self-employed workers and persons on social assistance.
Note that if you request benefits in case of sickness or pregnancy or if you are a new parent, the number of insurable hours of work required is 600 hours in the qualifying period, regardless of what you did in the period preceding the qualifying period (NERE). 5
The benefit claim
It is important that you file a claim for benefits as soon as you find yourself without work. You in fact have four weeks to file a benefit claim, from the week in which you stopped working.
Example: Pedro was laid off on Friday, January 6, 2006. He thus had until Friday, February 3, 2006 to file his claim. If he keeps to this deadline, his claim will be retroactive to Sunday, January 8, 2006, namely the Sunday following his last day worked.
If you do not want to risk losing the benefits to which you are entitled, you must file within the four-week deadline. If you delay in filing your claim, the danger is not only that you will lose your benefits, but also that your claim will be refused. After a long period of time, you may not have enough insurable hours of employment in your qualifying period to qualify for employment insurance benefits.
In the past, the benefit claim was made by completing a form (on paper). For some time, the Commission has required that you complete your claim on computers installed in the unemployment office. Paper forms are no longer available unless you really insist. We advise to proceed as follows: get a paper form from the MAC, and complete it at home when you have time to think it over. Consult the MAC if necessary. Then all you have to is retranscribe the data to the Commission’s computer. Your claim must be filed with the Service Canada office in your place of residence.
It is possible to complete a claim for employment insurance benefits over the Internet. However, we advise you not to do this if your qualifying period includes interruptions of employment for any of the following reasons: voluntary leaving, dismissal (for misconduct), disciplinary suspension or unpaid leave. In such cases, we advise you to proceed in the conventional manner: go to the unemployment office, complete a claim on a computer and provide explanations concerning the above-mentioned cases in writing, after first consulting the MAC.
Initial or renewal claim
As a general rule, if your unemployment insurance claim is the first that you have made for a year, your benefit claim is an initial claim; in other words, the claim starts a new benefit period.
If you stop receiving benefits for one reason or another (for example, you returned to work for a period of time and lose your job again), you have two choices, depending on your situation:
1° You can pursue your initial period. This is called a renewal claim, which is just a continuation of your previously established benefit period. You will not have to go through another waiting period because it has already been served at the beginning of this benefit period.
The new employment is held in Montreal. In this example, the unemployment rate is 9.6%.
Record of Employment
You should know that it is not mandatory to have your Record of Employment at the time you make a claim. Having said this, we note that you will have to produce it as quickly as possible. The Commission will hold you responsible if the Record of Employment is not obtained, although the Act stipulates the contrary! The employer must issue the Record of Employment within five days following the last day worked. If your employer is slow in producing your Record of Employment, file a complaint with the Commission after taking the necessary steps with your employer to obtain it.
In the meantime, you can provide the Commission with your payroll records so that it can establish a provisional benefit rate for you. All these steps must be taken in the four weeks following your last day of work, so that the Commission can start your benefit claim retroactively on the Sunday following your loss of employment.
As soon as you have your Record of Employment in hand, check it very carefully to see what the employer has entered on it: reason for the separation from employment, number of insurable hours, earnings, etc. Send the Record of Employment to the Commission immediately, keeping a photocopy. Point out any errors to the Commission, by filing a written complaint. Note that after an interruption of earnings of seven consecutive days has occurred, you may request that the employer issue you a Record of Employment, even if you continue to work for the same company. The employer is required to provide the Record of Employment at the employee’s request. Do not forget that you have to provide the Commission with Records of Employment for all employers for whom you have worked during your qualifying period.
Allocation of amounts initially paid
The following amounts, which may be paid to you when you leave your employment, do not prevent you from making a benefit claim as soon as your employment has ended. On the contrary, it is essential that you file your benefit claim as soon this happens. However, these amounts will prevent benefits from being paid to you for a certain number of weeks:
Example: Your employer lays you off on a Friday and pays you, in addition to your pay for the week you have completed, $800 in vacation pay and $1,200 as pay in lieu of notice. If your gross weekly pay is less than $500, the Commission will consider these earnings ($2,000) as equivalent to four weeks of pay. In each of these four weeks, you will be considered to have received the amount of $500 and will not be entitled to benefits.6 When this period has expired, you will have to serve the waiting period.
The waiting period is a period of two weeks during which you must meet the requirements of the Act (e.g. be available for work and be looking for work), but these weeks are not paid. However, you should not confuse the waiting period with the administrative delay before you receive your first benefits. If you intend to work during the waiting period, please consult the section entitled The 25% rule.
6. However, you are entitled to a four-week extension of your benefit period.
If you have delayed in making a benefit claim, you have the possibility, in some cases, of having the claim start retroactively, in other words, from the time that you stopped working. This retroactive claim is called antedating.
Your antedating application may be accepted if you have a valid reason that justifies your delay for the entire period in which you delayed filing your claim.
The following are the grounds that could be considered as valid:
Your claim could be accepted if the Commission thinks that you have acted as a reasonable and prudent person would. You must submit your antedating application in writing. A Commission employee will then assess the validity of the reasons you have given, and make a decision. If your application is refused, you always have the possibility of challenging this decision by appealing to the Board of Referees (see the section on Remedies).
It should be noted that since you now have four weeks following the last day of work to file your benefit claim, you will not be considered late if you file your benefit claim during this period.
7. It is always very important to note the name of the person who provides with information.
Since January 1997, the general rule has been that the benefit rate is equivalent to 55% of your pay. In exceptional circumstances, this rate can be as high as 80%, on the basis of very strict and specific criteria.
The following table clearly shows that for over 25 years, our various federal governments have preferred to attack the protection against unemployment rather than unemployment itself, as if unplugging the beeping smoke detector could put out the fire!
Benefit rate from 56% to 80%
To enjoy this increased rate, three conditions have to be met:
Calculation of the benefit rate
To determine the benefit rate to which you are entitled, when you have determined the percentage that applies to your situation, you must determine your weekly insurable earnings and then apply the appropriate percentage to them. To do this, take the insurable earnings you have received over the 26 weeks preceding your last day of paid employment (rate calculation period). This period may be extended in certain circumstances; see below for details. This amount will then be divided by THE GREATER of the following two numbers:
The calculation of the benefit rate can thus be summarized by the following formula:
These changes, which have been in effect since January 1997, have considerably altered the previous way of calculating the benefit rate. These legislative changes are likely to insidiously reduce the benefit rate.
Let’s take the case of three individuals (new entrants) who live in the Montreal region, where the unemployment rate was 10.5% at the time they filed their benefit claims. Each of them worked 910 hours (26 weeks of 35 hours at $500 per week) in the 52 weeks preceding their claim. The only difference between these individuals in terms of work is the manner in which they accumulated their hours of work. Let us imagine that the hours of work of these individuals are distributed as follows:
As for Paul, he only worked 13 weeks in the last 26 weeks, and 13 weeks in the first 26 weeks. Paul will be entitled to a benefit rate of $210 gross per week, which has been calculated as follows:
Unlike Paul and Béatrice, Fatima worked all of her weeks in the last 26 weeks that preceded her last day of work. Fatima would thus be entitled to a benefit rate of $275 gross per week. This result is arrived at by making the following calculation:
Previously, all these individuals would have received an identical rate of $275. Today, through the application of arbitrary measures, the Act penalizes those who have not had the opportunity to work without interruption or have not been able to work long enough.
Week of low earnings (“small weeks”)
If, in your rate calculation period, there are weeks in which your earnings were $225 or less, the Commission will exclude these weeks from the calculation of the benefit rate, taking the divisor into account.
Unemployment rate of 12.5%; the divisor is 15. Weeks 4, 8, 10, 14, 15, 16, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 are not taken into account. The benefit rate will be $315.
Unemployment rate of 8.5%; the divisor is 19.
Weeks 15, 16, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 are not taken into account.
The benefit rate will be $272.
Unemployment rate of 5.5%; the divisor is 22. Weeks 23, 24, 25 and 26 are not taken into account.
The benefit rate will be $248.
Extension of the rate calculation period
We have just seen that in calculating the benefit rate, the 26 weeks preceding the last day of work must be taken into account. However, this period can be extended in order to include hours of work that otherwise would not be used to establish your benefit rate. The following reasons entitle you to this extension:
Your rate calculation period will be extended by an equivalent number of weeks, up to 104 weeks.
What are the earnings that you have to declare on your report cards?
What happens when you work or receive money from other programs during your benefit period?
Virtually all the money received from employment is earnings. To this are added further amounts provided for under the Act. The following are examples of earnings that must be declared:
employment income (wages, vacation pay, severance pay, etc.);
pension8 (company plan and RRQ);
worker’s compensation (CSST);
benefits from the Société de l'assurance-automobile du Québec [Quebec automobile insurance corporation] (SAAQ).
The following are not earnings:
N.B.: You must always declare the gross amount before deductions.
The 25% rule
You can earn up to 25% of your benefit rate (if your benefit rate is $200 or less, you can earn $50) without any reduction of your benefit. Anything over this amount will be deducted from your benefit.
For the 25% rule to apply, you must be working part-time. If the Commission deems that you are working a full work week (FWW), it will not pay you. As a general rule, a full work week (FWW) is equivalent to 35 hours of work or more.
Example: If your benefit rate is $300 per week, you can earn up to $75 without any reduction of your unemployment insurance cheque. On the other hand, if you earn $100 in a week, the Commission will reduce your benefit by $25 for that week.
CALCULATION OF THE BENEFITS TO BE RECEIVED
Benefit rate x 25% = allowable amount
$300 = 75%
Gross earnings - amount = allowable surplus
$100 -$75 = $25
Benefit rate - surplus = benefit to be received
$300 = $25 = $275
If your benefit rate is the maximum amount, namely $413, you can earn up to $103 without your benefits being cut. This clearly shows the unfairness resulting from this calculation method: the poorer you are, the more you remain poor!
However, if you are entitled, for example, to the maximum benefit rate ($413 gross per week in 2006) and you start to work full-time at the minimum wage, you automatically lose your entitlement to benefits even if, by applying the 25% rule, a certain amount would be payable to you. The Commission considers, in this case, that you are not unemployed because you are working full-time.
Note that the 25% rule does not apply during the waiting period. During this period, every dollar earned will be cut from your next benefits. The Commission can cut up to three weeks of payable benefits to recover the amounts earned during the waiting period. The 25% rule also does not apply to sickness and maternity benefits. However, since December 31, 2000, the 25% rule applies to parental benefits.
The work done during the benefit period can enable you to accumulate insurable hours of employment and eventually to qualify again for a new benefit period.
Duration of benefits
The number of weeks payable during the benefit period is another one of the factors that has been altered by the various reforms, which are just so many initiatives to demolish the unemployment insurance program. While the best way to reduce the duration of unemployment is to create jobs, the Conservative and Liberal governments have rather chosen to attack the unemployed by sending them more quickly to social assistance or by forcing them to line up on their knees for a few jobs at minimum wage. Normally, a benefit period lasts 52 weeks. However, the number of benefit weeks that will be payable to you within this period depends both on the number of insurable hours of employment in your qualifying period and on the regional unemployment rate at the time your benefit claim was established. With these two pieces of information, you can find the number of weeks of benefits payable to you by consulting Table 2 (following page).
8. Pensions will no longer be treated as earnings if you were working so as to qualify again for a benefit period.
You now know the number of weeks of benefits to which you are entitled. In the preceding table, you will have noted that you cannot receive more than 45 weeks of benefits. These payable weeks are usually consecutive, and the first is the week that follows the two-week waiting period. If, during your weeks of payable benefits, you are deemed not to be unemployed (e.g., you are working full-time), the benefits payable and not received will be carried forward without exceeding the limit of 52 weeks following the start of your benefit period.
You are entitled to 26 weeks of benefits. However, after receiving 10 weeks of benefits, you find a full-time job for 14 weeks. At the end of this job, you will still be entitled to your 16 remaining weeks of benefits.
Extension of the benefit period
If, during your benefit period, you are not entitled to benefits for one or more weeks, for one the following reasons:
your benefit period will be extended by the same number of weeks, up to the maximum of 104 weeks.
Disqualification applies to a claimant who has a valid benefit claim but may not receive benefits for a set period of time, for the various reasons mentioned below. There are three different durations of disqualification, depending on the type of act that complained of. Disqualification may be for a period of one to six weeks (failure to report for an interview), of 7 to 12 weeks (refusing an offer of employment) or TOTAL (voluntary leaving or misconduct). During these disqualification periods, you will not be entitled to any benefits. Let us look at the cases in which these various disqualifications apply.
In the history of the unemployment insurance program, disqualifications for voluntary leaving and misconduct have always been easy pretexts for the various governments that were facing increasing unemployment, resulting in ever higher costs. By increasing the duration of the disqualifications, the insinuation was made that unemployment is a problem of individual behaviour, not of society.
Since April 4, 1993, a disqualification equal in length to your benefit period will be imposed on you if the Commission deems that you have voluntarily left your employment without just cause of if you have been fired from your job for misconduct. In these circumstances, you will definitely not receive benefits. Since June 30, 1996, refusal to accept a job transfer to another employer (e.g., where the company you work for is bought by a competitor) or refusal to resume your employment (e.g., following a temporary lay-off) are treated as voluntary leaving.
The existence of these disqualifications is derived from the principle that the unemployment insurance program is designed to compensate only individuals who are involuntarily unemployed. It is clear, however, that the real function of these disqualifications is to provide employers with docile workers who will accept increasingly poor working conditions on pain of being disqualified from benefiting from the plan. This disqualification has the effect of preventing you from receiving benefits for your entire benefit period.
In the first place, a person has to give a valid reason for having left his or her employment.
The text of the Act sets out 14 reasonable circumstances that justify voluntary leaving:
These reasons, which are contained in the legislation itself, are not the only ones that can justify leaving one’s employment. Other justifications may also prevent the disqualification.
In addition to having just cause, what the Commission requires of the individual who leaves his or her employment is that the individual show that LEAVING THE EMPLOYMENT IS THE ONLY REASONABLE ALTERNATIVE. What this means is that you have to show the Commission that you have done everything, given the particular circumstances of your case (and the case law!) not to leave your employment. You have to show that your leaving was the only reasonable alternative, in spite of the efforts that you had made to keep your employment. In addition, it is very important that you have looked for work before quitting your job.
If the Commission finds that you were fired for misconduct, it will impose a disqualification for the entire duration of your benefit period. Consequently, you will not receive any benefits.
The following are what the Commission regards as the main sources of misconduct:
Note that it is up to the Commission to prove misconduct. In particular, the Commission must prove the following:
On the other hand, some situations do not constitute misconduct, in particular:
If you are suspended, a disqualification will not be imposed on you, but you might be found to be disentitled for the duration of the suspension (see the section on Disentitlement).
Voluntary leaving or misconduct in the three weeks preceding dismissal or contract termination
A disqualification will not be imposed on you if you voluntarily leave your employment without just cause of if you lose your employment due to misconduct in the three weeks preceding the conclusion of your contract or, in the event that you have received a notice of dismissal, in the three weeks preceding the date of your dismissal. You will, however, be disentitled from the date you leave your job until the termination of your contract or until the date of your dismissal, as the case may be.
Disqualifications from 7 to 12 weeks apply to refusal of employment. Refusal of employment means refusing suitable employment without good cause,10 refusing or failing to apply for such employment after being informed that the job is vacant, and failure to take an opportunity to obtain suitable employment.
A clear understanding of your working conditions at the hiring interview will eventually enable you to benefit from all the rights recognized by the Act.
Hiring information program
This program, in which employers participate voluntarily, is designed to inform the Commission and/or report to it any acts by workers that can have an impact on their period of unemployment, such as the hiring date, employment earnings, refusal of employment, voluntary leaving, dismissal, suspension, etc.
Disqualification from one to six weeks
Disqualifications for one to six weeks apply to the following cases:
N.B.: When in doubt, always challenge a disqualification that is imposed on you. The Board of Referees does not have the power to impose a more severe disqualification; all it can do is reduce or cancel the disqualification, or dismiss your appeal. Since this appeal is without cost, you lose nothing by asserting your rights.
10. See the definition of unsuitable employment on page 21.
Disentitlement prevents you from receiving benefits for an indeterminate period. You become entitled again when an event stipulated in the Act occurs, which terminates your disentitlement. For example, disentitlement due to non-availability ends on the day you manage to show your availability. The main causes of disentitlement11 are non-availability, unemployment status, suspension, unpaid leave and hasty separation.
Before explaining each of the causes of disentitlement, let us remind you that there are two ways of escaping disentitlement:
To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you must show that you are available, looking for work, able to work13 and unable to find suitable employment.
In order to prove your availability, you have to conduct job searches. Even if the unemployment rate in your region is very high and there are few chances of finding employment, you absolutely must look for work.
To verify your availability, the Commission may ask to read your job searches. Consequently, be sure to note all the steps you are taking to find work.
In order to show that you are actively looking for work, it is preferable to use various job search methods. Here are some examples:
You must conduct three to five job searches per week. Do not forget that what you are doing must above all be credible, and it is important to vary your efforts. For example, a job search limited to consulting the newspapers and Web sites would not be taken seriously.
What kind of employment are you looking for?
You are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time to find suitable employment. During this period, suitable employment is employment under the same conditions and having the same benefits as your previous employment. The conditions and benefits can include the type of employment, the wages, the number of hours of work per week, responsibilities, etc.
How long is a reasonable period of time? The Act does not specify this; the concept varies depending on your work history and your occupational pattern. The same reasonable period will not be granted to a person who has worked for 25 years in a specific field and to another person who has worked in a specific field at ten or so trades and has held various jobs in the last five years. The reasonable period can vary from a few weeks to the entire benefit period.
After the reasonable period of time has passed, you have to broaden the scope of your job searches and be more flexible in your criteria. For example, you need to look for jobs in related fields, lower your salary requirements, be available to work a little further away from home, etc. In all cases, however, after the reasonable period, you must gradually reduce your requirements as you conduct your job searches.
You are entitled to refuse unsuitable employment, for example:
11. Disentitlement due to a labour dispute is dealt with in a special section of this document; see page 30.
12. It always better to indicate in a letter that if, in spite of the new facts you are providing, the Commission maintains its decision, you will appeal it to the Board of Referees.
13. You do not have to prove your availability and your aptitude for work if you are applying for special benefits.
Availability and studies
Nothing in the Act prevents a person from receiving unemployment insurance benefits as a student, even if attending full-time. However, the Commission is not going to do you any favours; on the contrary, taking a course is regarded as a major obstacle to availability. You have to be able to prove your intention to work, your efforts to find employment and your availability to work in spite of your courses.
The following are the arguments that may enable you to prove your availability:
As soon as you declare that you are taking a course, the Commission will ask you to complete a form. Go to your Service Canada office or our offices to obtain the questionnaire on training courses and to complete it. Nonetheless, we advise you to go to the MAC to attend our information meeting before declaring that you are taking a course and completing the form. At the end of the information meeting, you will be able to meet a counsellor, who will give you additional information specially adapted to students. You will avoid the delay that the Commission causes by sending you the form through the mail, which may cause an interruption to your benefits. Do not hesitate to submit additional information and to explain, on a separate sheet, how this course does not reduce your availability to look for employment and to work. It is up to you to prove your availability, even if you are taking a course.
Remember that as a general rule, loans and bursaries are not earnings for the purposes of unemployment insurance. These amounts thus do not have to be declared on your reports and will not be deducted from employment insurance benefits.
When you become the subject of a suspension, no disqualification will be imposed on you. However, you will be liable to be declared disentitled. To avoid this disentitlement, you will have to prove that what you are being “criticized for” cannot be treated as misconduct (see section on Misconduct). If you are declared to be disentitled, you can challenge the decision before the Board of Referees. As a last resort, remember that disentitlement will end if one of the following events occurs :
To be entitled to unemployment insurance benefits during unpaid leave, you have to apply the same mechanism as you do for voluntary leaving, namely cite a circumstance recognized by the Act and take the reasonable alternative test (see the section on Voluntary Leaving). If you do not meet any of the Act’s criteria, your disentitlement may end when one of the following situations occurs:
Obviously, you can appeal a disentitlement decision to the Board of Referees.
You will be found to be disentitled if you voluntarily leave your employment without just cause or if you lose your employment due to misconduct IN THE THREE WEEKS PRIOR TO THE END OF YOUR CONTRACT or, if you have received a notice of dismissal, WITHIN THREE WEEKS PRECEDING THE DATE OF YOUR DISMISSAL. This disentitlement will start on the day you leave work and will end on the date your contract ends or on the date of your dismissal, as the case may be.
Unemployment status and self-employment
In the time since claimant’s reports have been made through the TELEDEC telephone system, the Commission has taken advantage of the situation to add a question that did not appear on the old cards. One of the first questions that you are now asked is “Are you self-employed?”, for in addition to the obligation to be available that is imposed on regular claimants, they must also show that they are unemployed within the meaning of the Act.
The interpretation of self-employment, according to the Commission
How should you answer this question? What is the definition of a person who is self-employed? You can really get lost in the maze of the various expressions and realities associated with the concept of self-employment. Are you a self-employed person, an independent worker, a contractor, etc.? When do you have to answer “yes” to this new question?
The Commission very broadly interprets what it calls independent work rather than self-employment. “Independent work” occurs where the claimant works alone as an independent worker or contractor, or engaged in the operation of a business on his or her own account, or in a partnership or co-adventure. The Commission adds that it is not enough to find that a person is the owner of a business; what must rather be established is that the person is operating this business. This provision applies mainly to persons who perform contracts as self-employed workers during their benefit period or who own a business. In these cases, there is a presumption that you are working a full work week and are therefore not unemployed within the meaning of the Act. To overcome this presumption, you have to prove that you are carrying out this activity to such a limited extent that this employment or activity would not normally be your principal means of livelihood.
It is thus necessary to be able to show that your priority is to find full-time paid employment, and that you are only devoting a few hours per week to your activity as a self-employed worker or to your business. If you are called to a meeting to answer this type of question, do not hesitate to communicate with the MAC to prepare yourself properly.
What’s to be done?
If you have non-insurable employment (as a self-employed person, an independent worker, etc.), you are still required to declare your income if you are unemployed. Your income comes from employment in the same way as income declared by any other claimant who has obtained insurable employment.
As soon as you declare to Employment Insurance that you are an independent worker, your file should become the subject of an investigation process. They will send you, by mail, a form concerning self-employment. You will in fact be asked, on this form, to clarify your employment situation, for example, as a self-employed worker. The answers that you provide will determine what happens to your employment insurance claim. This is the form that is used to test the extent and nature of your activities as a self-employed person, and your intention regarding this type of employment. For example, you will be asked to project yourself in time, to determine whether you really want to make this your principal source of income. This form is thus of great importance, and that is why we advise you to consult an advocacy group for the unemployed before completing the form and returning it to the Commission.
Do not forget that the Commission’s investigators obtain a great deal of information by examining your statements of income (tax returns) for the years in which you received unemployment benefits. They have the authority to investigate up to six years back. They can also ask you for a copy of the contracts you have had with your former employers, in order to check to see whether the amounts you declared agree. It is thus crucially important to retain all these documents for a period of six years.
If you get through the investigation process without any difficulty and the Commission still regards you as an unemployed person, you will have to confront the ordeal of correctly reporting your income.
The principle is that income is reported in the week in which the work that produced this income was done. The problem arises when a contract is obtained for a fixed amount and it is impossible to predict in advance how many hours will be devoted to the contract. For example, Louisa has a $2,000 contract to design advertising. From the first week in which she starts to work, she must declare the income she earns, even if she will not be paid until several weeks later. She will also have to declare the number of hours she worked. But how can she know how much each hour worked will earn her, since she does not know how many total hours she will devote to this contract? Must she divide the $2,000 by 40 hours or 35? Is she working for $50 or $35 an hour? What she has to do is declare the precise number of hours worked and estimate the hourly rate. Then, when she has completed her contract, she will have to determine the actual hourly rate and write a letter to the Commission, to adjust her previous reports. It is thus very important to note the reports that you make through TELEDEC and to keep a copy of the letters that you send to the Commission. The process for declaring income is complex and always has to be started over again, but you cannot avoid it.
Divide and conquer
Although the Chrétien government introduced the idea of recognizing self-employed workers in the 1999 Axworthy report, this intention was never fulfilled. The concept is recognized in a number of European countries and in California, where self-employed persons pay their contributions and are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits if they are unable to obtain a contract. In Canada, however, the idea has apparently failed to gain support from the organizations that promote self-employment, networking being more important in their eyes than advocating for the rights of self-employed persons.
Moreover, we know that a number of self-employment situations are extremely precarious, especially for women. In these cases, is recognition of self-employed persons within the unemployment insurance system something that can regulate the world of work and ensure its advancement?
The following chapter concerns maternity and parental benefits for a child born or adopted anywhere in Canada before January 1, 2006. After this date, residents of Quebec became subject to provincial legislation, administered by the Government of Quebec (see p. 28).
Special benefits may be paid if you have accumulated 600 hours of insurable employment in your qualifying period, regardless of the unemployment rate in your region or whether you are a new entrant or a regular claimant.
Special benefits are so called because unlike regular benefits, it is not required that you prove your availability for work in order to receive them, in other words, you do not have to look for work or be able to work.
Special benefits may be paid only in cases of maternity, parental leave or sickness. Let us look at each of these types of benefits in detail.
Conditions of entitlement
In order to be entitled to maternity benefits, a woman must:
Maternity benefits for women who have seasonal employment or precarious employment… a tricky business!
In order to be entitled to maternity benefits, a person must have 600 hours of insurable employment in the qualifying period. This condition eliminates a large number of women who have seasonal or temporary jobs. In the Gaspé region, for example, such a condition has serious consequences for a large majority of women, as they are often unable to obtain the 600 hours of employment necessary to qualify.
15. See below the possibility of subsequently obtaining parental benefits.
16. Weeks of maternity benefits may be deferred if the child is hospitalized, and may be taken when the child returns home.
Is it possible for a person to receive regular benefits if the person is not qualified for maternity benefits?
YES, in some cases. If a woman does not have 600 insurable hours of employment, she may have enough insurable hours of employment to qualify for regular benefits. The number of hours required varies from 420 to 700, depending on the unemployment rate (see Table 1 on page 17). For example, 490 hours of work are enough to qualify for regular benefits in a region where the unemployment rate varies between 11% and 12% (but to receive maternity benefits, regardless of the unemployment rate, a woman still needs 600 hours of work). However, she must prove that she is able to work and available for work.
If the pregnancy proceeds normally, a woman can prove that she is able to hold her regular job or engage in light employment until the date of confinement, and thus prove her availability. In most cases, at the time of the birth, she will have to declare herself unavailable for several days or weeks, depending on her capacity and her willingness to return to the labour market. From the time that she considers herself fit to return to work and takes steps to do so, she can continue to receive regular benefits. Note that it is your responsibility to prove your ability to work (in terms of health) and your availability (active job searches).
You should know that the right to breastfeed your child is still not recognized by the Commission. Consequently, nursing may create an obstacle to for obtaining regular benefits. In that case, you must absolutely remove any doubt in the mind of the Commission’s officer regarding your availability. You will really have to have taken every step to ensure that this choice does not limit your availability for work.
Any person who has children and who receives regular benefits must be able to provide the name of a person or a daycare centre that can look after the children, in order to prove that she is available for work.
In order to be entitled to parental benefits, you must:
Sickness benefits may be paid for a maximum of 15 weeks if you are unable to work due to illness, injury or quarantine, and provided that you fulfil the required conditions.
If the reason for your initial benefit claim is to receive sickness benefits, you must have 600 hours of insurable work within your qualifying period.
If you have already qualified for regular benefits with less than 600 hours and you become ill later on, during your benefit period, you will be eligible to receive sickness benefits.
In addition, you have to
The Commission may also ask you to consult a physician whom it designates to verify your state of health. If the physician chosen by the Commission thinks that you have recovered and his or her opinion is contrary to the opinion of your own physician, you have to appeal to the Board of Referees. This situation is, however, very rare.
If you still need unemployment insurance benefits after receiving sickness benefits, it is very important to contact the Commission to apply for regular benefits. At that time, you have to prove that you are available and looking for work. The Commission may require, in case of doubt, a medical certificate stating that you are able to work.
Compassionate care benefits
To be entitled to compassionate care benefits, you must:
Special benefits and regular benefits
Within the same benefit period, you may receive the various types of benefits (special and regular benefits) for up to 50 weeks.
Henri lost his job due to lack of work. He has 1,225 insurable hours of employment, and the unemployment rate was 10.2% when he applied for benefits. He is thus entitled to 31 weeks of regular benefits, according to Table 2 on page 18. After receiving 10 weeks of regular benefits, he is hit by pneumonia, which makes him unable to work. His medical certificate confirms his inability to work for a period of 15 weeks. At the end of his disability, he will resume the regular benefits where they left off; in other words, he will be moved up to his 11th week of regular benefits. He can then receive 21 weeks of regular benefits.
10 regular weeks
15 weeks of sickness benefits
21 regular weeks
N.B.: With some exceptions, all these types of benefits must be taken within your benefit period (BP), which is 52 weeks.
Quebec parental insurance plan
Be the parent of a child born on or after January 1, 2006;
Be the parent of a child adopted on or after January 1, 2006;
Be a wage-earning worker who resides in Quebec at the beginning of the benefit period; or
Be a self-employed worker who resides in Quebec at the beginning of the benefit period and who was residing in Quebec on December 31 of the year preceding the beginning of benefit period;
Have stopped receiving pay on the occasion of the birth or adoption of a minor child (reduction of the regular earnings by at least 40%);
Be a wage-earning worker or a self-employed worker subject to payment of the parental contribution, whose insurable income is at least $2,000 in the qualifying period.
In addition, section 14 of the Act provides that allocated benefits, except for maternity benefits, are granted only if the parent normally lives with the child whose birth or adoption gives rise to the payment of the benefits.
Types of benefits offered
Eligible women who gave birth on January 1, 2006 or later may choose between the basic plan and the special plan. They may obtain 18 weeks of benefits at 70% of their weekly average income (reference base plan) or 15 weeks of benefits at 75% of their average weekly income.
Parental benefits may be paid to the mother or father, or may be shared between them. However, each of them must fulfil the conditions for entitlement to the plan. There are also two options for parents. The basic plan provides for the payment of seven initial weeks of benefits at 70% of the average weekly income, and 25 weeks at 55%, for a total of 32 weeks. The special plan allows payment of 25 weeks of benefits at 75% of the average weekly income.
The Quebec plan provides for a novel arrangement for fathers. It will now be possible for fathers to obtain coverage that is exclusive to them and that involves payment of five weeks of benefits at 75% of their income (basic plan) or three weeks at 75% (special plan).
Parents who adopted a child on January 1, 2006 or later may also choose between two options. The first 12 weeks are at 70%, and the subsequent 25 weeks are at 55% for the basic plan or 28 weeks at 75%.
The choice of the parent who initially receives benefits for a birth or adoption applies to the benefits of the other parent. Apart from exceptional circumstances, the option is irrevocable.
Start of the payment of benefits
Unlike the Employment Insurance Program, there is no two-week waiting period at the start of the benefit period. Benefits are thus payable from the first week of the claim. However, this cannot begin earlier than:
Establishment of the average weekly income (AWI)
The average weekly income is the amount used as the basis for calculating the weekly benefit rate (75%, 70% or 55% as the case may be).
The maximum insurable amount is identical to that of the CSST and the SAAQ, and will be $57,000 for the first year.
The Act provides for a family supplement when the net family income is less than $25,921.
For wage earners
The AWI is established on the basis of the last 26 weeks of the
qualifying period. If the person has worked less than 26 weeks in his
or her qualifying period, the average is obtained from this number of
weeks. However, the divisor cannot be less than 16.
Diane filed her claim on January 1, 2006. In her qualifying period (from July 1, 2005 to January 1, 2006), she earned $500 per week for 26 weeks, for total earnings of $13,000. Her AWI will thus be calculated as follows:
26 weeks x $500 = $500
Roberta filed her claim on January 1, 2006. In her qualifying period, she worked for 18 weeks and earned $500 per week, for total earnings of $9,000. Her AWI will be calculated as follows:
18 weeks x $500 = $500
Conrad filed his claim for paternity benefits on January 1, 2006. In his qualifying period, he only worked 12 weeks, earning $750 per week for total earnings of $9,000. His AWI will be calculated as follows:
12 weeks x $750 = $562.50
For self-employed workers
The AWI amounts to one fifty-second of the net income of the business in the year preceding the benefit period. Where the person is in his or first year of operating a business, the qualifying period is the same year as the year in which his or her benefit period began (s. 31 Reg.).
Rolande has been a self-employed worker for five years and made a benefit claim under the new plan in April 2006. Her net business income for 2005 is $42,000. Her AWI under the Act will be calculated as follows:
1 x $42 000 = $808
Martha began to work as a self-employed worker in 2006, and filed a claim in November of that year. Her net business income for 2006 is $5,000. Her AWI is calculated as follows:
1 x $5,000 = $96
The Employment Insurance Act provides that individuals who lose their employment due to a labour dispute are not entitled to benefits. These individuals will likewise not be eligible for social assistance benefits because An Act respecting Income Support, Employment Assistance and Social Solidarity contains a similar provision.
A labour dispute is a disagreement between an employer and its employees. Generally speaking, this disentitlement applies in the case of a strike or a lock-out.
To disentitle you from receiving benefits, the Commission must prove the following three facts:
In 1990, an amendment to the Act substantially broadened the scope of the provision dealing with labour conflicts. Henceforth, the legislation covers not only loss of employment but also the possibility of resuming employment. Consequently, workers who are laid off before the beginning of a labour dispute will lose their right to unemployment benefits as of the date on which they would normally be recalled.
Increasingly, employers have additional weapons to compel their employees to accept deteriorating working conditions. The MAC denounces the imbalance thus created between the parties. The Supreme Court has indeed called into question the very existence of this disentitlement, and suggests that its scope be limited.
However, you have two ways to avoid or terminate this disentitlement:
In this regard, the federal government introduced, in 1990, a constraining and restrictive definition of the end of the work stoppage, resulting in a clear retreat from the previous legal situation. For there to be an end of a work stoppage now:
Labour disputes and special benefits
Individuals who receive special benefits before the beginning of the dispute will continue to receive them. However, it should be noted that when their special benefits end, these individuals will be affected by the disentitlement related to the labour dispute, and will no longer be able to exercise their right to ordinary benefits.
Another provision of the Act also allows special benefits to be received after a labour dispute has begun, provided that the employer has been notified by the employee of the departure date for maternity, parental or sick leave before the work stoppage.
Since this chapter of the Act is particularly complex, you absolutely need to inform yourself by consulting your union or the MAC, in order to become familiar with all the provisions that relate to labour disputes.
To be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, you must fulfil the three conditions mentioned at the beginning of this document (insurable employment, interruption of earnings and a number of hours required). But that is not all. For the whole duration of your benefit period, you will have to report every two weeks on your ability to work and your availability for work, and you must declare any amounts that you have received or will receive that might reduce or even cancel out your benefits for the week or weeks in question.
This continual verification of your entitlement is done by telephone (TELEDEC) or over the Internet INTERDEC). In exceptional circumstances, you may make your report using the traditional report cards if you ask to do so because you have trouble using Teledec or Interdec. In either case, you must not wait more than three weeks after the indicated date for filing your reports; otherwise, you will lose your entitlement to benefits.
Note that the questions that you have to answer by Teledec or Interdec are quite similar to those on the old report cards, with some additional variants. You may be asked sub-questions based on the answer you previously gave. Remember to photocopy your report cards or to note your telephone reports on a calendar because you no longer have written evidence. These reports are made once every two weeks, except in the case of the first three weeks, where your telephone report or report cards could cover these specific weeks. Normally, when Teledec or Interdec is used, the dates and even the hours when you have to call back are clearly indicated to you.
One of the worthwhile options that Teledec offers you is to first try out a telephone demonstration, where you can hang up at any time. This can be very useful, especially when you are using this method for the first time. The following are the telephone numbers for Teledec: 1-800-431-5595 in French and 1-800-531-7555 in English.
Note that in officially filing your report by Teledec, you will have to go right to the end of the registration process. You will have to wait until you hear “Goodbye” because if you hang up before, your report will be invalidated and you will receive no payment at the end of the process! As for Interdec, it will give you a message: “Online report successful”. In the case of report cards, always complete side 1 first. Depending on the answers that you give to the questions on that side, you will be asked to complete specific sections on side 2 or to put your answer in the blank spaces on side 1. You thus have to be vigilant and attentive.
You have to provide your social insurance number and your four-digit access code when you file your report (by Teledec or Interdec). The following are the questions that you will be asked, and the variant scenarios of possible answers! Press number 1 for Yes and number 9 for No. We will take, for our example, the weeks of March 02 to 15. The answers are given as examples only.
Remember to consult our section on this subject. Depending upon your choice of answer, a number of sub-questions are attached to this main question.
You must declare the fact that you have worked during the period in question, even if you will only be paid later. If you are not sure of the amount, make the closest estimate you can of what you think you are going to receive. When you receive your gross payment, you can make the appropriate adjustments by coming to the unemployment office or by sending them a letter of explanation by certified mail, including photocopied evidence of your pay slip(s) for the week(s) in dispute.
Be careful. If you have voluntarily left your employment or have been dismissed, you could be affected by a disqualification. Do not be satisfied just to point out the facts to them or to write on a card. Take the time to explain in writing the circumstances of the end of your employment, and send this document to your unemployment office so that it can be placed in your file and reviewed. Do not mail your statement with your unemployment card if that is the case, since a card is processed elsewhere than at your unemployment office. Ideally, contact the MAC before making your statement. (See the section on Disqualifications).
It is only appropriate to answer “yes” if you have begun to hold permanent employment. The Commission will then close your file and will not send you any more cards. Your benefit claim is still valid, but if you wish to reactivate it, you will have to proceed by renewing your claim, either by telephone or by completing the appropriate form.
For some years, the Commission has had the practice of automatically freezing your file if, after two reports (four weeks), it has not sent you a cheque. When this employment ends, all you will have to do is reactivate your file by renewing your claim.
You should know that you have to declare every type of course, whether full-time or part-time. Unless you have obtained authorization from an Emploi-Québec officer to take the course, it will be considered an obstacle to your availability, and the Commission may disentitle you. See the section on Availability and Studies. You must complete a form at your unemployment office two or three weeks before the start of your courses.
Unless you are claiming special benefits (sickness, maternity or parental), you must answer “yes” to this question. Otherwise, you will be disentitled. Consult the chapter on availability.
If this is so, you will have to remain on line and speak to an agent, or call back the next day during normal business hours. Do not forget to take down the name of the person to whom you are speaking. Get in touch with the advocacy group for the unemployed nearest you in order to obtain more specific information about the nature of these amounts and the manner in which they should be declared (see also the section on Earnings).
An agent of the Commission may call you to an interview at any time, in order to clarify your entitlement to benefits and any other information you have provided over the last six weeks. There can be various reasons for calling you to an interview:
To determine whether you are doing adequate job searches.
To obtain more details regarding information you have provided to the Commission on your benefit claim, in a telephone report, on a card, a form, etc.
You may also be called to a group interview, for one of the following reasons:
Any refusal to attend an interview or information session without a valid justification results in disqualification from receiving benefits for a period of one to six weeks. It is thus important to attend at the indicated date and time. If you are unable to attend, it is important to notify the person who has called you and request that the meeting be postponed.
Following are some of the accepted reasons for postponing an appointment:
If you have an individual interview, you also have to know exactly why you are being called. Request an interval of 48 hours between the time you are told that people want to meet you and the interview itself. This time will allow you to inquire into your rights and obligations. During the interview, the agent will note your responses, and this information will become part of your file. It is thus very important to reread what the agent has written. The agent may also ask you to sign the statement that he has written. Refuse! There is nothing in the Act that obliges you to sign a statement written by another person. Even if the contents of the statement seems to reflect what has been said in the interview, important details may be missing, or the agent may emphasize some details and leave others out. The agent generally knows better than you do the words to use to make you disentitled.
Note that a malicious investigator could decide to suspend payment of your benefits if you refuse to sign a statement. If this situation arises, do not hesitate to challenge this decision, because this procedure is not in accordance with the Act.
It is important to ask for a copy of the statements. Some agents refuse to provide it. If, after the fact, the statement seems to be incomplete, to contain incorrect information or not to reflect what you wanted to say or the situation that you have experienced, make another written statement on your own to correct the previous statement. Do not hesitate to describe the atmosphere of the interview, if this has the effect of making you uncomfortable, intimidating you or preventing you from explaining yourself properly. Send this new statement to the Commission as soon as possible, by bringing it in person (and having a copy of the statement stamped, which you will keep) or by registered mail. You can always consult a MAC counsellor on this subject.
The “Investigation and Control” group
The “I&C” group is made up of Commission employees whose official mandate is to detect fraud in connection with the Employment Insurance Act. These employees also fulfil another, parallel mandate: to increase the surpluses in the Unemployment Insurance Fund. This has nothing to do with fraud and good management of the program. “[Translation] The ‘Investigations and Control’ group must see to it that all measures taken in order to fulfil its mandate take the management philosophy into account. This emphasizes our commitment towards people. It means that investigations must be done with delicacy and discretion, with due respect for human rights (…).” This is what can be found in an official document of the Department of Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC or CEIC), the “Investigation and Control Manual”, Chapter 2, page 1, 1989. If a humour award could be given for the funniest of all of the writings emanating from Employment Insurance, this would easily win, by a long shot! For some I&C employees, threats, intimidation and manipulation of the facts are part of the “commitment” that they have made “towards people”.
Since February 1999, we officially know that investigators have a duty to recover benefit money by observing quotas set in advance! If they do not meet their quotas, investigators can be transferred into another section or fired. This you have read. What is confirmed here is what we have long denounced: the abuses by investigators.
If an Investigation and Control officer (ICO) calls you to a meeting, in order to ensure that you have a proper defence and assert your rights, we repeat that you should be notified 48 hours before the meeting and demand to know why you are being called. You have the right to be accompanied by a witness (friend, union representative or lawyer). Regarding the interview, see the preceding section.
Without becoming totally paranoid, it is important that you be EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS when you are dealing with these Commission employees. Even though the Act gives them enormous power, you will be able to limit the damage by informing yourself in advance with competent resource persons. Finally, in case of abuse by an investigator or any other employee of the unemployment insurance system, you should not hesitate to write a letter of complaint. Inquire with the MAC to get the “right addresses”.
For some unemployed people, the clawback, which official documents also refer to as “repayment at the time of income tax filing”, is a cause of some serious headaches.
When a claimant has annual income greater than $51,375 and has received unemployment insurance benefits in the same year, he will have to repay part of the amounts received if, over the last 10 years, he has received regular benefits.
The Act states that when our annual income is greater than $51,375, we have to repay the lesser of the following two amounts:
She will have to pay the lesser of the following two amounts:
She will thus have to repay an amount of $787.50.
Overpayment of benefits and penalties
The Commission has three years to check every week in which it paid you benefits. However, if the Commission thinks that there were overpayments of benefits as a result of false declarations that were knowingly made (in full knowledge of the fact), it then has a review period of six years. If the Commission discovers mistakes as a result of which some benefits should have been paid to you or were overpaid to you, it can calculate the amount and inform you of this. However, the Commission is not entitled to impose a penalty more than three years after the offence. Finally, since July 1, 2002, the Commission has given itself the power to charge interest on fraudulent overpayments. It should be noted that interest is chargeable not only on the overpayments, but also on any penalty that may be imposed.
Suggestions if you are asked to repay benefits
Above all check to see if you really owe the amounts demanded. The Commission must not only notify you of the amount that it is claiming from you, but also of the amounts that it is taking into account, for the period in question, that have resulted in these overpayments. Generally speaking, this notice is divided into two columns. One represents the amount that you have declared, and the other indicates the amounts that the Commission thinks you have earned. These latter amounts are obtained from the employer. Check the amounts against your cheque stubs and your agenda (to check the dates on which you worked). Do not hesitate to ask the Commission for additional information in writing.
You should know that the mandate of the officers in the collection section is to recover amounts of money as quickly as possible. This sometimes leads to a certain aggressiveness or even a lack of sensitivity regarding an individual’s living conditions. Be vigilant.
If you are a claimant at the time of the demand Know that if the Commission demands repayment of overpaid benefits from you while you are receiving benefits, it can reimburse itself out of your future benefits. As soon as you receive a repayment decision, you must:
If there is no appeal to the Board of Referees and no agreement, the Commission will seize your benefits until the full amount is repaid. There is no provision that specifies the amount that the Commission may seize from you. However, the administrative practice is to take up to 50% of your benefits. It is, however, possible to ask that only 25% of the amount of your benefits be withheld. You can even insist that this percentage be only 10% if your finances do not enable you to pay more. If the officer does not seem to be sympathetic, you can always appeal the decision (to officially challenge the fairness of the amount demanded). This will prevent the Commission from taking amounts from your benefits before the final decision. To help you in your negotiations with the Commission, we recommend that you consult a budget planning organization, in order to show the Commission, with a budget to support your arguments, that what you are offering to pay is the maximum that your budget allows. You should do this because the budget form that the Commission has you complete does not take all your expenses into account. The Commission has six years to be reimbursed from the date on which the overpayment started.
If you are no longer a claimant when the claim is made:
If you do not show any signs of life, expect to receive many notices containing threats of legal proceedings, or telephone calls whose sole aim is to speed up the collection process. Nonetheless, the Commission can go ahead and seize your wages or even money from your bank account if you continually show that you are refusing to pay.
A write-off application consists of asking the Commission to cancel your debt. The Commission can write off your debt or part of it provided that one of the following conditions is met:
You should know that only the Commission can decide to write off a debt, and it very rarely occurs that a write-off application is accepted. You may, however, request that your federal MP or a lawyer intervene to support your write-off application.
The government has justified successive cutbacks to the unemployment insurance program on the pretext that a large number of claimants are cheats. In reality, the great majority of individuals who have made an incorrect declaration have usually erred without intending to abuse the program. The proof of this is found in a survey conducted in 1992-1993 by Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), which found that only 1% of all amounts paid out in unemployment insurance seemed “doubtful”. This survey concerned 1.5 million individuals. Such results prove that on the contrary, people who are unemployed are extremely honest.
If the Commission deems that you have made a fraudulent declaration, it imposes a penalty on you (accompanied by a notice of violation, see page 38) or takes you to court. In some cases, you may receive a warning letter without any monetary penalty (see page 37).
The amount of the penalty may vary considerably. Since June 1, 2005, a new policy is in effect regarding the amount of monetary penalties. For a very long time, advocacy groups for the unemployed have complained about the exorbitant amounts of penalties exacted by the Commission. The courts called upon to judge unemployment disputes, and even some public servants, have also repeatedly stressed that the policy on false declarations is excessive and unjust.
The Commission finally changed its policy. In sum, for a first offence, the amount of the penalty may not exceed 50% of your benefit rate if you made false declarations (committed a wrongful act), or 50% of the amount of the overpayment. For a second offence, the percentage rises to 100%, and for a third offence, to 150% (before June 1, 2005, these percentages were 100%, 200% and 300%). The amount payable as penalty for a first offence may not exceed $5,000, for a second offence $8,000 and for a third offence $10,000, for one benefit period. For example, a claimant who has already had a $5,000 penalty and who receives another $4,000 penalty for a second dispute regarding the same benefit period will have to pay $8,000 as a penalty, not $9,000.
Employees of the Commission must take into account mitigating circumstances surrounding the fraud. The Commission grants them discretionary power to impose, for example, a penalty less than 50% for a first offence.
Furthermore, in calculating the amount of the penalty, agents must take into account the claimant’s ability to pay. To quote a short excerpt from a Commission document, the Benefit Manual Circular No. 2005-10: “[Translation] The Court added that the financial difficulties and ability to pay aspect is certainly a factor that the Commission must take into account in setting or revising a penalty, but the Court made it clear that the claimant is responsible for making sure that the Commission has all the relevant facts concerning his or her ability to pay when the Commission makes a decision to impose the penalty.”
You should also note that eligible earnings under the 25% rule are no longer deducted from the amount of the overpayment. This means that finally, with this new rule, you will have more money to repay HRDC.
Finally, since July 1, 2002, the Commission has given itself the power to impose interest on fraudulent overpayments. It should be noted that interest is not only payable on the overpayment, but also on any penalties that may be imposed.
It often happens that the Commission treats false declarations as intentional, when they are only mistakes. It is very important to challenge these decisions. The penalty may only apply for false declarations that are knowingly made, not for mistakes. Here are some examples:
When an audit is done, it is discovered that you declared this amount but in another week, on another card that the officer did not check. Your employer has perhaps made a mistake in indicating the week in which this amount was paid to you. In either case, there is no reason to impose a penalty.
When you look carefully at the notice of the Commission, you see that the weeks examined by the Commission are not consecutive. In fact, the Commission seemed only to have checked one week in two. Knowing that you have always been careful to declare properly all the amounts you have received, you ask that all the other weeks be audited. As if by chance, in the other weeks, the amounts that you have declared are greater than those declared by the employer. This is a typical case where it is the employer that made mistakes in its statements to the Commission, because the employer did not take into account the fact that its pay period is from Thursday to Wednesday, while the statements to the Commission must be made on the basis of the calendar week, namely Sunday to Saturday. Obviously, no penalty should be imposed even if the mistake was made by the claimant.
Agents are conditioned to see fraud everywhere, and end up by seeing it even where it does not exist. It is therefore very important to challenge the Commission’s decision in this area, even if you have only received a warning.
It should be noted that mitigating circumstances can be cited before a Board of Referees or an Umpire, in order to have the amount of the penalties imposed by the Commission reduced. To succeed in this area, however, you have to show that the Commission has not taken mitigating circumstances into account or has not made an effort to know them. In such cases, it would be advisable to ask for help from the MAC, who can help you in your efforts.
A warning is a black mark on your file. The Commission deems that you have committed fraud but is not imposing a monetary penalty. Two situations can give rise to a warning. Initially, the Commission made a decision about fraud that goes back more than three years. The Commission may require that you pay back the overpayments, but cannot impose monetary penalties. At a second stage, the Commission’s agent deems that your explanations (regarding mitigating circumstances) are valid and that no penalty is appropriate. However, this is a rather exceptional situation. At that point, you will receive a warning. What you have to remember is that a warning letter is accompanied by a notice of violation.
Notices of violation
(or increase in the number of hours required to qualify for benefits)
A notice of violation accompanies a warning letter and/or a decision in which a monetary penalty is imposed on you. This policy has been in place since 1996.
If the Commission imposes a penalty on you, the related notice of violation means that for your next two unemployment insurance claims (in the five years following the notice), you will have to accumulate an insurable number of hours of work greater than the standard in force at the time you file your claim. This increase depends upon the level of the violation (minor, serious, very serious and subsequent). (See Table 1.)
Note that for a violation to be qualified as subsequent, it suffices that you be notified of a violation committed within the five previous years.
Table 2 illustrates how this system affects regular claimants, by indicating the number of hours required to qualify.
The unemployed person who is a “new entrant” will be required to have 1,138 hours of insurable employment to qualify if the Commission has notified him or her that over the last five years, he or she has committed a minor violation, 1,365 hours if he or she has committed a serious violation or 1,400 hours if the violation is very serious or subsequent, compared to 910 hours if his or her unemployment insurance file did not contain any violation.
As for the claimant who receives a warning letter, the Commission will not require that this person have more hours worked to be entitled to benefits. It is only in the case of a subsequent violation that the blow may be fatal, the increase being 100% (see the attached table).
On April 1, 1998, in line with the other provinces except Ontario, Quebec assumed sole responsibility for training and became its architect. This exclusive responsibility had been claimed for many years by successive governments in the National Assembly. The Quebec Government took advantage of this situation to very greatly reduce, in the name of a zero deficit, its share in the financing of training measures.
It should also be pointed out the budgets allocated to training come from the serious cuts that have been made in the unemployment insurance plan over the last several years. In fact, the unemployed are the ones who subsidize training out of their already reduced cheques.
After a very difficult implementation, occupational training is still experiencing some failures. A number of persons who apply for training continue to meet with one refusal after another. Some individuals have even seen their training cancelled at the last minute. Others feel that they are given training, but that this training does not reflect their objectives and their tastes. In short, unemployed persons, as always, have to redouble their efforts to obtain a training course.
What can you do to obtain a training course?
The path that has to be followed is about the same as it was when the unemployment office was responsible, except that everything now goes through the local employment centre (CLE). You can obtain the address information for your local CLC at your unemployment office or by calling the Emploi-Québec office in your region.
Here is some advice for obtaining a training course or giving yourself a good chance of obtaining it. You have to “prepare your file”:
When you have prepared your file in this way, the person you are facing may accept or reject your application. Since the decisions of Emploi-Québec agents cannot be appealed, if you are refused, you can only ask for a review. Here is some advice in this regard:
THE WORK-SHARING PROGRAM
In the Employment Insurance Act, there are provisions that enable workers to receive benefits while retaining their employment. They can do so under the work-sharing program. The principle of this program is simple: it enables a business to reduce the time worked for each of the workers participating in the plan, rather than laying off a part of its workforce.
For example, if an employer has to reduce its production, it can propose to its employees that they work one or two days less per week in order to avoid lay-offs. The days that are not worked will be paid by unemployment insurance.
The criteria for accepting work sharing
How does work sharing work?
Workers must be employed for a minimum of two days per week for the Commission to pay benefits for days off work. The benefit rate will be 55% of gross wages (as it is for regular benefits). This program normally lasts for 25 weeks, with a possibility of extending it for 12 weeks. Finally, in order to benefit from this program, employees must fulfil the three entitlement conditions described at the beginning of this document.
A person earns $300 for five days of work. Under the work sharing program, the person works three days and will receive benefits for two days. The person will thus receive $180 from his or her employer for the three days of work (300/5 = $60 and three days at $60 equals $180), and 55% of $120, namely $66 for the two days of unemployment, for a total of $246.
What are the effects of the work-sharing program?
When a work-sharing program comes into effect, an interruption of earnings is deemed to have taken place and a benefit period begins. No waiting period must be served before receiving benefits. However, when people again start to receive regular, sickness or maternity benefits, this period applies. It may happen, at the end of the work sharing agreement, that instead of being hired back full-time, you are laid off. Likewise, if you are laid off during the period of this agreement, the initial benefit rate is maintained. This means that the benefit rate will be based on the weeks worked before the start of the agreement in question, but you will still be paid for a full work week instead of for one, two or three days depending upon what has been stipulated in the agreement. Furthermore, if you are laid off before the work sharing program is completed, your benefit period will be extended by the number of weeks of work sharing that you have already completed. This means, in this case, that the benefit weeks for work sharing that the Commission has paid you will not be deducted from the number of weeks of benefits to which you would have been entitled if the work sharing program had not been put in place. Furthermore, at the end of the extension period, it will always be possible to make another unemployment insurance claim using the weeks worked under the work-sharing program.
You take part in a work-sharing program from October 1 to February 1, on the basis of four days of work and one day of unemployment per week. When you are laid off on February 1, the Commission will consider the weeks worked full-time, namely before October 1, to establish your benefit rate. It will always be possible, thereafter, to make a second benefit claim using your weeks worked between October 1 and February 1, when the work-sharing agreement was in place.
If a person leaves his or her employment voluntarily because a work-sharing program has been implemented, total disqualification may be imposed on that person. You should know that in the event of sickness, if you miss less than one week, in other words if you have worked at least one day, you will receive work-sharing benefits for that week. However, if your absence from work extends beyond a week, you will have to meet the usual requirements for this type of benefits. In the event of maternity, the Commission will consider, in establishing the benefit rate, the weeks worked before the beginning of the work-sharing period.
Furthermore, the work-sharing program may have an impact on other social legislation, and in particular on SAAQ and CSST benefits. Finally, you should know that the work-sharing program may have a significant impact on the application of the collective agreement, in particular in regard to vacations, the pension plan and insurance.
As we have seen, there are many significant effects, and you have to consider the situation carefully before accepting such a program. We cannot recommend too highly that you exercise vigilance in regard to work sharing. Look carefully at the application of this program. To do this, inform yourself with your union or the MAC.
THE SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS (SUB) PROGRAM
The program of Supplemental Unemployment Benefits (SUB) makes it possible to increase your weekly earnings while avoiding the 25% rule during the benefit period. This program offers the opportunity to register with various supplemental unemployment benefits (SUB) plans.
A SUB plan enables your employer to offer you one supplement to employment insurance benefits during a period of unemployment attributable to a temporary work stoppage, another for training, a third for sickness and a fourth for injury or quarantine.
Your employer can choose the weeks during which you will receive the supplemental unemployment benefits. The description of the plan may be part of one or more documents, such as an agreement with a union or association, a sectoral trust contract, an insurance policy underwritten by a private company, an employee guide, the statement contained in a policy on personnel or a commitment signed by the employer.
The combination of your benefit rate and your supplemental benefits may not, however, exceed 100% of your weekly earnings. Note that the supplemental amounts do not constitute earnings.
The program must be submitted to the Commission before its effective date. If your employer offers supplemental maternity and parental benefits (including adoption benefits), it is not obliged to register these plans in the SUB program. We advise your employer to read carefully section 37 of the regulations under the Employment Insurance Act, in order to understand properly all the requirements of this program.
If the Commission hands down a decision that is not favourable to you17 (e.g., disentitlement, penalty or exclusion), you may, depending on the decision rendered, ask the Commission’s officer to revise his or her decision, or you can appeal directly to the Board of Referees. React promptly. You have 30 days after receipt of a letter to appeal to the Board of Referees.
In asking for a revision, it is important to explain why you think that a decision should be reversed. In order to meet the 30-day deadline, it is wise to mention, at the end of the letter, that if the decision is upheld, you want to be heard by the Board of Referees (see form letter, page 43).
Appeal to the Board of Referees
The Board of Referees is an administrative tribunal that is independent of the Commission. This is the tribunal that will hear your appeal if you believe that the decision rendered by the Commission is mistaken. There are no charges associated with appealing to the Board of Referees. In appealing to this body, mention the following in your appeal letter:
You have to expect that five to eight weeks will pass between the date on which you sent your appeal letter and the date of the hearing.
The Board of Referees consists of three members:
In all cases, the MAC can provide technical assistance for writing the appeal letter and for preparing the hearing before the Board of Referees. You absolutely must be well prepared in terms of both the interpretation of the facts and the interpretation of the Act (consult similar cases that have been favourably decided by a higher level tribunal (Umpire, Federal Court of Appeal, Supreme Court).
The Board of Referees may partly or wholly reverse the Commission’s decision. You thus have nothing to lose. If the Board of Referees renders an unfavourable decision, you still have the possibility of appealing to the Umpire. The Commission and, in some cases, the employer may also challenge the decision if you win your case before the Board of Referees.
Appeal to the Umpire
The Umpire is usually a judge of the Federal Court who is appointed by the government. The Umpire’s tribunal is a decision-making body that may reverse a decision of a Board of Referees.
You may appeal a decision of the Board of Referees only if you have one or more of the following grounds:
failure to respect the rules of natural justice (partial hearing, notice to appear delivered late, etc.);
an error of law; or
a decision based on an erroneous finding of fact that was made in a perverse or capricious manner or without regard for the material before the Board of Referees.
The appeal to the Umpire must be submitted within 60 days following the decision of the Board of Referees. The appeal to the Umpire is free. The Commission has prepared a standard form for writing the appeal letter to the Umpire. At this stage, the process becomes more complex. Although you have the right to represent yourself, you will do better to turn to a group of unemployed persons or retain a specialized lawyer, since a good knowledge of the Act is necessary to increase your chances of success. Inform yourself by consulting the MAC or an organization advocating for the rights of unemployed persons.
The interval between the appeal to the Umpire and the hearing of the case may be 6 to 12 months.
Some practical advice
Carefully read all the documents concerning your claim.
Whether the document is a letter from the Commission, a form that you are asked to complete or an interview report. Know that as far as the interview report is concerned, you are not obliged to sign it.
Always keep a photocopy of all the decisions that you submit to your Service Canada office.
Whether the document is the Record of Employment, the appeal letter, the list of job searches, a medical certificate, etc.
When important documents have to be delivered within a precise time frame, it is preferable to send them by registered mail or to deliver them in person to Service Canada. If you deliver a document in person, bring another copy with you and have it stamped when you file your document. You will thus have proof that the Commission has received the document.
Avoid giving information over the telephone.
There may be advantages in asking that the Commission communicate with you in writing rather than by telephone. You should know that there is nothing in the Act that obliges you to give out your telephone number. Consequently, the Commission cannot demand it. You will thus avoid possible telephone harassment or simply misunderstandings. The other side of the coin is that if the Commission requires relevant information to complete your file and the Commission employee has to use regular mail, the wait times may be considerably longer. In this area, you thus have a choice to make.
As for the information that you wish to communicate to theCommission, we strongly advise you to proceed in writing, always keeping a photocopy of your document.
Deadlines… there are limits!
The normal time frame for receiving your first benefit cheque is four to six weeks. After that, the Commission will allow itself 10 working days to send you your cheque once your report has been received. When these deadlines have passed, go in person to your Service Canada office to get your file activated. Information required to process your file may be missing, you may have incorrectly answered a question or you may have been forgotten. You can also ask the MAC or your federal MP to intervene on your behalf.
Keep all the documents that the Commission sends you.
APPEAL (RIGHT OF)
This is the right to challenge a decision rendered by an officer of the Commission concerning your benefit claim. An appeal to the Board of Referees or to the Umpire is free.
INTERRUPTION OF EARNINGS
This is an essential condition for entitlement to benefits. You experience an interruption of earnings when you have been without work and without pay for at least seven consecutive days.
SERVICE CANADA CENTRE (Service Canada)
Since September 2005, the unemployment office has a new name, Service Canada. Service Canada is designed to be a single window that enables the public to access various federal services. At the present time, Service Canada has information that mainly relates to unemployment insurance services and Canada pensions. The ultimate aim of this new structure is to provide information on all programs and services of the Canadian Government.
The Canada Employment Insurance Commission consists of four members, of whom two represent the government, one represents employers and one represents unions. The Commission advises the government on unemployment insurance matters, but has very limited power in this area. In particular, the Commission gives advice on contribution rates, and publishes an annual monitoring and assessment report. In this guide, the term “Commission” is used to refer to the department responsible for unemployment insurance.
BOARD OF REFEREES
The Board of Referees is an administrative tribunal made up of three individuals who do not work for the Commission. This is the tribunal that hears the appeals of claimants (or employers) who are contesting an unfavourable decision of the Commission.
The contribution is a premium that employers and workers must pay to fund the unemployment insurance system. The worker’s contribution is usually source deducted from a person’s pay cheque when the person holds insurable employment. The contribution rates are revised once a year.
CLAIMANT REPORT CARD
This is a requirement that you answer, every two weeks, a questionnaire that enables the Commission to determine your entitlement and, where applicable, to pay or refuse you benefits. The biweekly report, which was formerly a small two-sided form that was mailed out, has taken a new electronic direction. It is now by telephone or the Internet that a person reports what he or she has done during the last two weeks covered by this report. In exceptional circumstances, persons who have serious difficulties in understanding one of the two official languages or who do not have the necessary electronic means will be able to complete their reports in writing.
Any benefit claim includes this period of two unpaid weeks of unemployment. This period is often compared to the “deductible” of other forms of insurance. You have to fulfil all the conditions, for example, be available during this period.
A stipulated number associated with the unemployment rate, used to
NERE (see PERIOD PRECEDING THE QUALIFYING PERIOD)
Term employed by the Commission’s employees, which means the commencement of the benefit period. In fact, it is the date on which a benefit period officially begins.
HRDC (THE COMMISSION)
Department of Human Resources Development of Canada, the department responsible for applying the Employment Insurance Act.
This is employment that can entitle you to unemployment insurance benefits if you ever become unemployed, provided that you fulfil all the conditions required by the Act.
Disqualification is a social control that takes the form of punishing individuals who do not behave in the desired manner. The most commonly known disqualifications are those for voluntary leaving and for misconduct. The stunning increase in the number of weeks of disqualification since 1990 is an effective weapon that has been given to employers so that they can impose more difficult work conditions. Disqualification is thus a specific period during which a person may not receive the benefits to which he or she would normally be entitled: one to six weeks, 7 to 12 weeks or the entire benefit period.
INSURABLE HOUR OF EMPLOYMENT
Hour of employment with an employer with whom you have insurable employment.
Disentitlement, like disqualification, is designed to focus on certain behaviour patterns of the workforce in general. Through disentitlement, which can apply to you if you are not available for work, unemployed people are induced to accept employment under less favourable conditions. Through the disentitlement relating to labour disputes, employers are given greater power to force acceptance of their conditions. Disentitlement differs from disqualification in that the period during which you are unable to receive benefits is indeterminate. You remain disentitled as long as you do not meet one of the requirements of the Act.
The Umpire is usually a judge of the Federal Court. If you do not agree with the decision rendered by a Board of Referees, you can lodge an appeal before an Umpire.
This is an abbreviation for Social Insurance Number.
A new entrant is a claimant who is considered to be a new entrant to the labour market because he or she has not been part of the workforce for at least 490 hours in the period preceding his or her qualifying period (NERE). Such a person is thus required to have 910 hours of insurable employment to be entitled to benefits.
This is a monetary fine. It may be imposed where a false or misleading declaration has knowingly been made, for example, when a benefit claim or (non) declaration of earnings is made. This is not to be confused with disqualification.
RATE CALCULATION PERIOD
Period of 26 weeks preceding the last interruption of earnings, which is used to calculate the benefit rate. It may be extended under certain conditions.
As soon as you fulfil the three required conditions (insurable employment, interruption of earnings and sufficient number of hours of work), the Commission establishes a benefit period for you. This period normally lasts for 52 weeks. The number of weeks of benefit to which you are entitled within the period may be considerably less (the maximum for regular benefits is 45). See the section on Duration of benefits, on page 16.
Period of 52 weeks that precedes the start of your benefit period (BPC). The qualifying period provides the Commission with various types of information that is used to establish, in particular, your entitlement to unemployment insurance and the number of weeks payable.
PERIOD PRECEDING THE QUALIFYING PERIOD (NERE)
Period of 52 weeks that precedes the qualifying period. In the administrative jargon of the Commission, this is called NERE (new entrant/re-entrant to the labour force). This period is used to determine whether you were part of the labour force. If you were, you are entitled to benefits if you have accumulated between 420 and 700 insurable hours of employment in your qualifying period. If you were not, you must have 910 insurable hours of employment in your qualifying period to be eligible for benefits.
A person who applies for or receives unemployment insurance benefits.
Claimant who has accumulated at least 490 hours in the workforce in
the qualifying period (NERE).
RECORD OF EMPLOYMENT
(Also called separation from employment) This is an official document that proves that you have held insurable employment. It also states the reason why you are no longer working, the number of hours worked, your insurable earnings, etc. Your employer must issue your Record of Employment within five days following your interruption of work.
This is an average, movable over three months, of the seasonally adjusted regional unemployment rate calculated by Statistics Canada. The MAC, like other stakeholders, considers that the official unemployment rate, as always, for political reasons, is lower than the real rate.
Gross amount that a person receives per week in the form of unemployment benefits. As a general rule, this amount is equivalent to 55% of your earnings, calculated from the rate calculation period. In exceptional circumstances, this rate may be increased under certain specific conditions.
An overpayment is an amount that the Commission demands from you if it thinks that you have received benefits to which you were not entitled.
A notice of violation accompanies a penalty or a warning letter. Any wrongdoing or offences relating to the Employment Insurance Act thus allows the Commission to issue notices of violation. For example, you have knowingly failed to declare employment income while you were receiving employment insurance benefits.
List of advocacy groups for the unemployed
List of grassroots groups