EI Has Changed In Canada & Workers Who Get Sick Can Now Get Paid For Much Longer

It's just one part of a bigger plan for EI reform.👇

A Government of Canada building.
Senior Editor

A Government of Canada building.

The federal government has confirmed changes to Canada's Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits, which will enable workers to claim money for much longer if they become ill or injured.

Last month, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough confirmed that the EI sickness benefit extension would become permanent, a move which the feds say will "improve" the benefit.

It means, as of December 18, eligible workers are able to claim EI sickness benefits for up to 26 weeks. This is up from the 15-week cap that was previously in place.

According to the feds, the change will help around 170,000 Canadians each year, giving them "additional time and flexibility to recover so they can return to work after an illness, injury or quarantine."

Those who submit a claim for EI sickness benefits on or after December 18, 2022, will be able to receive payments for up to 26 weeks in total – provided this is the time they need to recover.

To align with the change to EI, the federal government has also updated the maximum length of unpaid leave that federal employees can take.

As of the same date – December 18 – employees in federally regulated private sectors can take up to 27 weeks of unpaid medical leave, up from 17 weeks.

Officials say this will "ensure that employees have the right to take unpaid job-protected leave while receiving the extended EI sickness benefits."

The change to EI sickness benefits is expected to be the first in a series of updates to Employment Insurance in Canada, with a more detailed plan for EI reform expected to be unveiled by the government later this month.

What are EI sickness benefits?

EI sickness benefits have been designed to support individuals who are temporarily unable to work for medical reasons.

The benefit provides regular payments – which vary in amount depending on each individual's circumstances – to those who are unable to claim paid sick leave from their employer.

To claim EI sickness benefits, a medical certificate is usually required.

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Who is eligible for EI sickness benefits?

To be eligible for EI sickness benefits, an individual must be unable to work for medical reasons. They must also be losing out on at least 40% of their usual weekly earnings, for a week or longer.

To apply, 600 insured hours of work must have been accumulated in the 52 weeks before the start of a claim, or since the start of the previous claim, whichever is shorter.

Those claiming sickness benefits must be "otherwise available for work, if it weren’t for your medical condition."

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What qualifies for EI sickness benefits?

There is no comprehensive list of specific illnesses or injuries that qualify for EI sickness benefits.

Per the eligibility criteria, individuals can apply if they are facing illness, injury, or quarantine that is preventing them from working as usual.

To get the benefits, a medical certificate must be signed by a qualifying medical practitioner. This must confirm that the applicant is unable to work for medical reasons and for approximately how long.

Those with medical conditions expected to be long-term or permanent, may be eligible for other benefits instead, such as Canada Pension Plan disability benefits.

Those who have health complications during pregnancy may be able to apply for maternity benefits.

How much can you get?

Applicants can receive 55% of their earnings each week, up to a weekly maximum of $638.

The exact amount each person can get will vary depending on their usual earnings, and the total amount claimable will vary depending on the number of weeks the individual claims for.

EI sickness benefits after 15 weeks

Thanks to the new change to EI sickness benefits, eligible individuals are now able to get paid after 15 weeks.

The permanent extension of EI sickness benefits – effective December 18 – means that workers will be able to get up to 26 weeks of payments, which is 11 weeks longer than the previous cap.

How many people get EI sickness benefits?

According to government data, more than 450,000 people claimed a total of $2 billion in EI sickness benefits in 2020-2021 – the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year before, the same benefit provided $1.9 billion in payments to approximately 421,140 claimants. The same year, 34% of recipients used the maximum 15 weeks they were entitled to.

A recent report evaluating the benefit found that most claimants (87%) return to work within the first year following an illness, injury or quarantine.

How to apply for EI sickness benefits

Eligible workers can apply for EI sickness benefits online, via the federal government's website.

Full details on the application process can be found here, and applicants should be aware that information and documents will be required.

The online application takes around one hour to complete.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Helena Hanson
Senior Editor
Helena Hanson is a Senior Editor for Narcity Media, leading the Travel and Money teams. She previously lived in Ottawa, but is now based in the U.K.