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The question

I am taking a leave from my retail cashier position because my elderly parents live with me. I am over 60, so more at risk than the younger people that work at the store. But the biggest reason I need to self-isolate is my mother, who has health complications and is especially vulnerable. Now, for her sake, I must self-isolate. Is this a scenario where EI could be claimed?

The first answer

Lee Satveit, Taylor Janis LLP, Employment Lawyer, Edmonton and Calgary

If either of your parents are critically ill or injured, or if they require end-of-life care, then you may be eligible for regular EI caregiving benefits. If any of you are sick with COVID-19, or if your employer asks you to stay home, then you are likely eligible for the Government of Canada Emergency Response Benefit (ERB). However, if neither you nor your parents are sick with COVID-19, and none of you are under quarantine, your eligibility is somewhat unclear.

According to the language of the government website and formal announcement, the ERB does not appear to cover your situation. That is, the language does not appear to cover people choosing self-isolation due to greater vulnerability (e.g., who have family that are immunocompromised). However, the legislation itself states that if you cease working for at least 14 consecutive days “for reasons related to COVID-19," then you are eligible for the ERB.

Your reasons are reasonably related to COVID-19 and therefore may be covered. Any such application may be assisted by a specific medical recommendation that either of your parents are especially vulnerable. The government encourages people to apply for EI, or the ERB, so that their processing agents can determine eligibility. It won’t hurt to apply, so long as you are honest in your application. You should also explore the Goods and Services Tax credit for a one-time special emergency income-support payment by early May, and monitor additional announcements from both the federal and provincial governments to see if additional support might be offered.

The second answer

Nicole Skuggedal, Partner, Lawson Lundell LLP, Vancouver

Your question illustrates the tough choices facing many employees caring for elderly parents or other immunocompromised dependents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Assuming you meet the basic eligibility criteria, regular EI benefits apply if your employer lays you off or terminates your employment through no fault of your own. To continue to be eligible for regular EI benefits, you have to be actively looking for work. Sickness EI Benefits apply if you personally are sick or required to self-isolate or quarantine. In your case, you are choosing to take a leave, albeit for a very understandable reason. In these circumstances, you will not be eligible for regular or sickness EI benefits.

A possible benefit available to you is the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which was announced on March 25, 2020. The CERB will provide income support of up to $2,000 per month for up to four months to:

  • Workers who have lost their job as a result of COVID-19;
  • Workers who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19;
  • Workers who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19; and
  • Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures and are unable to earn employment income, regardless of whether they qualify for EI.

If your mother’s pneumonia is related to COVID-19 and you need to care for her, you will qualify for CERB. But if your mother’s pneumonia is unrelated to COVID-19, you will not be able to access CERB. The CERB does not apply if a worker takes a voluntary leave of absence or quits their job. I recommend continuing to monitor the federal government’s announcements to see if any additional support is provided to Canadians caring for their elderly parents during the pandemic.

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