Updates to EI and Other Benefits During COVID-19

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
A person holding a thermometer, representing people who may require disability benefits due to COVID-19
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The Canadian Government continues to make revisions to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program. As of April 15, it is now permissible to earn up to $1,000 while collecting benefits in each four-week cycle relevant to the emergency relief application. Again, you must renew your application each four week period to confirm that you remain eligible.

In addition, as of April 21, the federal government has announced a new program to subsidize the wages of low-income essential workers such as those working in long term care facilities, hospitals or grocery stores. The idea behind this plan is to ensure that the essential services provided by these workers remain available to Canadians. To qualify for the extra funds, the worker must normally earn a monthly income not greater than $2,500. Full details will soon follow.

Canada has announced that the wage subsidy program for employers of up to $847 per week for each employee will be active as of Monday, April 27. Be sure your employer is aware of this. It could allow employers to avoid layoffs or recall employees who have been laid off. The rules for eligibility have been adjusted for March to show a 15% reduction in revenue in order to qualify (the remaining months require a 30% reduction). It is retroactive to the onset of the virus to March 15. It will soon be available on the CRA website.

Both Ontario and Canada are making frequent updates to important everyday questions to employees in Ontario. At this moment, it would appear that the number of new coronavirus cases in Ontario is peaking, excluding the regrettably disastrous situations facing workers and patients in long term care facilities.

Ontario has recently struck a committee to plan, what will no doubt be a gradual return to work program for the province. Once implemented, this will raise a flurry of employment law issues, such as who is selected to return to work, the terms of their return, and an employer’s potential insistence on medical clearance certificates and regular testing of all employees, to name but a few. Stay tuned to this page for further developments in real-time.

Mental Health Issues

The mental health of all workers remains a focal issue as this crisis continues. Employees in the front line of health care facilities and the essential service retail and offices are at high risk of infection and under considerable emotional distress every hour of their working day.

Persons at home, unemployed, looking after children and elderly relatives, remain worried about financial issues, paying everyday expenses and concerned as to whether they will have a job to return to when this crisis abates. If you are in need of emotional support, the provincial BounceBack program can be accessed here.

EI & Mental Stress

If you are at home and not otherwise eligible for Employment Insurance (EI), for whatever reason, you will be eligible for sickness benefits if you are suffering from a mental health issue and have the required insurable hours. The cap on EI is $573 per week, based on 60% of insurable earnings to a cap of $54,200 for 2020. At least 600 hours of insured income in the year preceding an application is required. If it is coronavirus-related, there is no need to obtain a medical report but it would do no harm to get one.

Similarly, if you are working and are too stressed to continue, EI sickness benefits are available due to mental stress.

Disability Benefits & EI Continuation

If you qualify for disability benefits for a physical or emotional reason, after the 15 week period has ended, you are then eligible for regular EI benefits, presuming that there is no job to return to at that point. You will need to file a new application and perhaps provide a Record of Employment if there has been a change in your employment status since the onset of the sickness period.

Workers’ Compensation

If you are covered by workers’ compensation benefits, emotional stress is also a valid reason for an application. Establishing eligibility is more difficult than the EI test, as it requires that you show severe mental distress, but it remains available. There is no need to show a coronavirus connection for such an application, but rather only that the stress is work-related generally. It may well be that you are stressed out due to the impact that the virus has on your working conditions, but that is a background issue. The primary requirements are that (1) you are suffering from severe mental distress and (2) that this is work-related.

This is much different from an application for benefits for becoming infected. That test was discussed in a recent post. You can count on the Workers’ Compensation Board to fight these cases due to the expected volume. The case for mental distress is an easier case to make. Unlike EI, you will need medical support to show the degree of emotional stress and that it is due to your working conditions.

Short Term Disability

Check your employer’s policies to see if you are insured while ill for the short term period, which usually amounts to six months. There is legally no distinction between physical and emotional illnesses when applying for STD. There is, in this case, no need to show a workplace connection, only that you are unable to perform your job due to medical reasons.

Mental health issues are very important and are becoming much more common during the global health crisis. We will provide updates in this space on the news as it develops. Contact the office of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can guide you through the issues, help you understand your rights, and defend your position. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.