E.I. Sickness Benefits Fill Disability Void

Many employees participate in employment-related disability insurance plans. Not all employers, however, offer this coverage. And, as disability premiums become progressively more expensive, I expect fewer employers will make this a part of their standard compensation package.

In the case of medical leaves which are not the result of a workplace injury, sickness benefits are available under the federal Employment Insurance Act. The E.I. Act is administered by the recently re-named Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (H.R.S.D.C.).

E.I. sickness benefits are intended for persons who are unable to work because of sickness, non-workplace injuries, and quarantine. The applicant must demonstrate that, but for the medical condition, she would have been available for work.

Applicants are generally required to have worked at least 600 hours during the last 52 weeks (or since their last claim). In some cases, the applicant may qualify for benefits without having met the 600 hour threshold if the person did not stop working because of the illness. For example, a person who is already receiving regular E.I. benefits when she becomes ill may receive sickness benefits.

An E.I. application must be submitted, either on-line or in person, at a local H.R.S.D.C. office. Applicants must provide their Social Insurance Number, a Record of Employment from each job held in the last 52 weeks, and bank information to facilitate direct deposit of benefit payments.

They also must provide a medical certificate indicating the nature and expected length of the illness. Fees associated with the doctors preparation of a medical certificate are the responsibility of the applicant.

There is usually a two week waiting period before E.I. benefits will begin to be paid. There is no waiting period if the applicant is re-opening an existing claim for which the two week waiting period has already been served.

In some instances, the waiting period will be waived entirely. Somewhat curiously, this can be the case if the employer has paid the person sick leave pay since his last day worked. I expect there is a reason for expediting payments to those who have already received sick leave pay (and not doing so for those who haven’t) but it’s beyond me.

E.I. sickness benefits can be collected up to a maximum of 15 weeks. In some circumstances, however, when sickness benefits are combined with maternity or parental benefits the maximum period can be much longer. Advice about your particular situation and the maximum benefit period which applies to you should be obtained directly from H.R.S.D.C.

Individuals receiving sickness benefits must report all absences from their area of residence, including all absences from the country. They must also report all employment earnings even if they are working for themselves.

Earnings such as wages from employment, workers compensation benefits, group insurance benefits, and retirement income will be deducted dollar for dollar from E.I. sickness benefits. Income from certain other sources is not deducted. Again, advice direct from H.R.S.D.C. about your personal situation is highly recommended.

There are some other types of benefits available in situations involving an illness or injury. Employees absent from work because of an employment-related injury are, of course, taken care of under the B.C. Workers Compensation Act.

In the case of a family member enduring a serious illness, the E.I. Act also provides compassionate care benefits so that a family member may take time off to provide care. These are only available when the family member has a serious illness, there is a risk of death within 26 weeks, and the person requires a family member to provide care or support. In B.C., however, the Employment Standards Act does not provide leave matching the 26 week benefit period.

Disability benefits are also available in certain circumstances under the Canada Pension Plan. These are intended to address a long-term disability preventing an individual from working regularly at any job.

The web of wage replacement programs for persons requiring medical leave is quite extensive, starting with E.I. sickness benefits. In my view, as time goes on, employees are likely to be relying on them more and more heavily.

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