An Overview of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in Respect of COVID-19 Employment Disruptions

Bennett Jones LLP

On March 25, 2020, the Canadian government announced the creation of a temporary program called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to address the overwhelming number of Employment Insurance (EI) applications following upon the COVID-19 pandemic. The CERB is intended to be a simple and efficient mechanism to get benefits to individuals impacted by business and employment disruptions caused by the COVID-19 situation. The CERB will be available to both individuals who would normally be eligible for EI benefits, and to those who would not traditionally qualify, such as self-employed workers.

What Is the CERB?

The CERB program provides a benefit of $2,000 for qualifying individuals for each four-week period during the program’s operative period. According to the government's most recent announcement, the CERB will be payable once per four-week period and will be available for eligible workers for up to 16 weeks between March 15, 2020, and October 3, 2020. The CERB benefit is taxable in the hands of recipients, and taxes will be deducted from the benefit just as taxes are deductible from EI benefits when paid.

The CERB supersedes the previously announced, but never implemented Emergency Care Benefit (ECB) and Emergency Support Benefit (ESB), which were intended for individuals who did not qualify for benefits through Employment Insurance (either EI sickness benefits or EI regular benefits). Applications for ECB and ESB had not commenced, and now there will only be the CERB program.

Who Is Eligible for the CERB?

The CERB is available to both EI eligible and non-eligible workers.

The CERB will provide income support to workers who stop working for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days within the four-week period for which they are applying for benefits. Those reasons include that the individual:

  • has lost their job;
  • is sick;
  • is quarantined;
  • is taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19;
  • is still employed, but is not receiving income because of disruptions to their work situation (e.g., layoffs, unpaid statutory leave related to COVID-19); or
  • has to take care of a child or children who are sick or at home because of school or day care closures.

To be eligible, an applicant must:

  • be at least 15 years of age;
  • be resident in Canada; and
  • for 2019 or the 12-month period preceding the day of their application have a total income of at least $5,000 from employment, self-employment or pregnancy and parental benefits under the Employment Insurance Act (or under a provincial plan because of pregnancy or the care by the person of a new-born child or child placed with them for the purpose of adoption).

How Do Workers Apply for the CERB?

The government currently anticipates that the CERB application portal will open in early April 2020 and that qualifying applicants will receive benefits within 10 days of an approved application. Until the CERB portal is open, EI eligible individuals may continue to apply for EI benefits.

How Does the CERB Program Impact Employment Insurance?

If a worker has already applied for and is receiving EI sickness benefits or EI regular benefits, the government has advised that they should not apply for the CERB at this time. These individuals will be eligible to apply for the CERB if their EI benefits end prior to October 3, 2020, and they are still without income.

EI eligible workers that apply for the CERB first and are still without income at the end of the 16-week CERB period will be eligible to apply for EI benefits.

There are a number of questions that pertain to this new benefit, including whether the government will allow employers to "top up" inactive employees who are in in receipt of the CERB (i.e., similar to a Supplemental Unemployment Benefit plan).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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