A streamlined approach to emergency benefits for workers in the wake of COVID-19

March 27, 2020 | Sabrina Anis, Lauren Coles, Teri Treiber

In the preceding weeks, nearly one million Canadians have applied for employment insurance benefits (“EI”) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The system is overwhelmed by the high volume of applications.

In response, and as part of its economic response to COVID-19, the Federal Government passed Bill C-13, An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19, on March 25, 2020. This Bill enacts the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act (the “Act”), which establishes the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”) for individuals. The CERB combines and replaces the previously announced Emergency Care Benefit and Emergency Support Benefit.

What is the CERB?

The CERB is a taxable benefit in the approximate amount of $2,000 per month for a period of up to 16 weeks. The CERB is not established under the EI regime, and the qualification rules for the CERB differ than the requirements to qualify for EI.

The CERB is available for those impacted by COVID-19 during the period between March 15, 2020 and October 3, 2020. Applications for CERB will no longer be accepted after December 2, 2020.

Who is eligible for the CERB?

The CERB is available to workers who cease work for reasons related to COVID-19 for at least 14 consecutive days within a four-week period. A “worker” is defined as a person who is at least 15 years of age and a resident of Canada. Furthermore, in order to qualify, a person must have earned employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or within the last year.

The Federal Government’s Economic Response Plan website has suggested that the following categories of workers may be included:

  • workers who must stop working due to COVID-19 and do not have access to paid leave or other income support;
  • workers who are sick, quarantined or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19;
  • working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children that are sick or need additional care because of school and daycare closures;
  • workers who remain employed but are not being paid because there is currently not sufficient work (i.e. workers who have been temporarily laid off); and
  • wage earners and self-employed individuals, including contract workers, who would not otherwise be eligible for EI.

Notably, a worker is not eligible for the CERB if they resign from their employment voluntarily. Furthermore, in order to be eligible for the benefit, an individual cannot be receiving:

  • income from employment or self-employment (subject to the regulations);
  • benefits under the Employment Insurance Act;
  • allowances, money or other benefits paid to the worker under a provincial plan in respect of pregnancy or child care; or
  • any other income that is prescribed by regulation.

How does the CERB affect workers who have applied for or are currently receiving EI benefits?

As noted, an individual who is receiving benefits under the Employment Insurance Act is ineligible to receive the CERB. Canadians who are currently receiving EI regular and sickness benefits as of March 25, 2020 will continue to receive their EI benefits and should not apply for the CERB.

Canadians who have already applied for EI and whose application has not yet been processed need not apply for the CERB. These applications will be processed.

If an individual who is currently receiving EI benefits stops receiving EI benefits before October 3, 2020, the individual can apply for the CERB once their EI benefits cease, so long as they are unable to return to work due to COVID-19.

Finally, Canadians who are eligible for EI regular and sickness benefits will still be able to access these benefits after the 16-week period covered by the CERB.

When and how can workers apply?

The CERB application is anticipated to be available through an online portal in early April. Applicants are expected to receive CERB payments within 10 days of submitting their application. The CERB will be paid every four weeks.

What should employers know?

Employers should be aware of the CERB as a potential benefit that their employees may wish to apply for if they are affected by COVID-19.

Finally, it is important for employers to remember that it is possible that features of the CERB may be altered in the coming weeks and months. Employers should be mindful that circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are dynamic and quickly changing. If employers have questions about how the CERB benefit can assist their employees, or would like any other information about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, a member of the Miller Thomson Labour & Employment Team would be happy to assist.


Miller Thomson is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure that we provide our clients with appropriate support in this rapidly changing environment. For articles, information updates and firm developments, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.


This publication is provided as an information service and may include items reported from other sources. We do not warrant its accuracy. This information is not meant as legal opinion or advice.

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