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Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are losing their jobs as the COVID-19 pandemic causes businesses across the country to shut their doors or cut back on operations.

For many, this may be a new experience. Here’s what to do if you’ve suddenly lost your income, from applying for employment insurance to taking care of your mental health.

Figure out which income support applies to you

The Trudeau government announced a new benefit Wednesday that will provide $2,000 a month for four months to Canadians who have lost their income due to the pandemic, after the government was flooded with applications for employment insurance.

Employment insurance generally doesn’t include self-employed or freelance workers, said Vancouver employment lawyer Andrea Raso. But the new benefit does. So, it’s important to check out both options and decide which one fits your situation before you apply for income support.

“People who are independent contractors or, you know, gig workers, they are typically left out.”

Figure out whether you’ve been laid off or terminated

If you’ve been “laid off” the first thing to do is figure out if the situation is permanent or temporary.

In other words, you need to figure out exactly what the terms of your layoff are. If it’s a temporary layoff, meaning your employer plans to bring you back later, you don’t get severance pay, Raso said.

“What it enables the employer to do is to keep the employees, because most employers in this situation want those employees back,” she said.

However, most provinces have a time cap on these types of layoffs (for example, in Ontario, it’s usually 13 weeks, with some exceptions). If the 13 weeks passes and you’re still not working, your employer has officially terminated you and you should check your contract to see what you are owed.

You also want something in writing stating whether you’ve been temporarily laid off or terminated, said Toronto employment lawyer Andrew Langille — and don’t sign anything without fully reading it, or even having it vetted by an employment lawyer.

“You have to clarify what the employer’s intention is in writing.”

If you have trouble getting termination pay from your former employer, Raso said you can escalate the situation.

“Employees have recourse through their employment standards tribunals, and those are very, very simple to access,” she said. (In Ontario, you can start here.)

Get a record of employment

Raso said the most important document you need from your former employer is a record of employment. Whether you’ve been laid off permanently or temporarily, this document is what will help you apply for employment insurance.

Langille says you should also get your T4 from the previous year, just in case.

Apply for government support, and keep track of your application

Next, it’s time to apply for either EI or the new benefit. There are few details about the new benefit, but when it comes to applying for EI, Raso warned that you will be in charge of keeping track of your application, and that with the higher volume of applicants, the process could take awhile.

Langille said it’s important to make a My Service Canada account so you can track your application using the four-digit code you’ll receive in the mail. You will also be responsible for making reports every two weeks, he said.

The Star Vancouver
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