COVID-19: Your employment rights and the CERB

COVID-19: Your employment rights and the CERB

Your eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as a working Canadian

Throughout the pandemic Prime Minister Trudeau has been holding regular press conferences during which he states the measures that the government is taking to help Canadians who have lost their jobs during COVID-19. This information is often accompanied by new funding announcements for various sectors, and news of increased eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The benefit is taxable, temporary income support that provides $500 a week in assistance for up to 16 weeks. However, what does this mean for Canadians who are still working through the pandemic? Many working Canadians have questions and concerns surrounding their employment rights and the CERB.

Can I quit my job and still receive the CERB?

You will not be eligible to receive the CERB if you have quit your job voluntarily. However, you may qualify if you have left your job involuntarily for reasons related to COVID-19. In this instance, the government would consider your eligibility on a case-by-case basis as per your employment rights. The CERB program is for individuals who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. If you plan to quit your job for non-COVID-19 related reasons (i.e., sexual or other harassment, discrimination), then you may not be eligible for the CERB.  If you were to apply for regular EI and voluntarily leave your job during a pandemic, you would follow standard due process.

Can I qualify for the CERB if I lost my job before March 15?

If you lost your job for reasons related to COVID-19 before March 15, processing of your claim would follow standard EI rules. If you became jobless prior to the pandemic and were determined not to be eligible for regular EI or sickness benefits, you may qualify for the CERB, but only between March 15 and October 3.

What if I volunteer to be laid-off?

If your workplace is still running throughout the pandemic, your employer may be struggling to manage the pressures associated with it. As a result, you may consider volunteering to be temporarily laid-off to help them manage, if necessary. Regardless if you volunteer or not, if you are laid-off due to reasons surrounding COVID-19, then you are eligible to receive the CERB.

What are my employment rights with respect to receiving the CERB while I still have a job?

If you still have a job, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to stop working because you have been personally affected by the virus. The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020, will ensure that your job is protected. The temporary income support is available to you under these circumstances:

  • You are under government-mandated orders to self-isolate or quarantine.
  • You are sick with COVID-19.
  • You are responsible for taking care of someone who is self-isolating, quarantined, or sick as a cause of the virus.
  • You have children or other dependents that require your supervision as a result of school and other facility closures related to COVID-19.

What happens if my employer decides to send me on furlough?

Your employer may decide to send you on furlough to better meet their business needs during this time. If that were to happen, you have stopped working and are on unpaid leave as a result of COVID-19. As such, you are therefore allowed to apply for the CEBR providing that you meet the other eligibility requirements.  Whether you are voluntarily/involuntarily laid-off or furloughed, you do not have to terminate your relationship with your employer. You may also still receive the CERB if you are simultaneously receiving other benefits (e.g., medical) from your employer. 

Looking ahead: Your employment rights and the CERB after the 16-week coverage period

As of right now, the Canadian government has stated that Canadians will be eligible to receive the CERB funding up until October 3, 2020. You will no longer be eligible if you return to work before October 3 or if you are ready and able to work but choose not to. If you qualify, you will be able to access regular EI and sickness benefits should you remain unemployed after the CERB coverage period has ended.

For a full list of COVID-19 questions and answers, visit https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application/questions.html#payment.