Frustrated EI applicants find an end-run around overwhelmed call centres

The excerpted article was written by Karina Roman · CBC News

Canadians forced to spend days trying to get through on Service Canada’s designated phone line to sort out problems with their employment insurance applications are sharing tips through social media and web forums — including a link to an online form that can get an agent to call back within 48 hours.

But government officials warn that if the number of people using that fast-track form increases substantially, the system will not be able to manage the volume — meaning longer waits for a call back, or perhaps no call back at all.

“There isn’t any hidden capacity in the system,” said one senior government official familiar with the situation, adding the form was created in the wake of the temporary closure of in-person Service Canada centres due to the pandemic.

“The form is not a substitute for the call centre route,” he added.

Many Canadians who applied for EI after losing their jobs due to the pandemic — and before the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was announced — say they have spent days trying to get through to an agent after an administrative snafu tied up their applications and they were told to contact Service Canada.

Those who can’t get through also can’t get paid. Many have gone weeks without receiving any benefits.

More than 2 million applications in a month

More than two million people applied for EI in March alone after economic activity shut down across the country. After that initial rush, the government redeployed 3,000 Service Canada employees to help with the call volume. Clearly that hasn’t been enough, especially on the call centre side.

Those phoning the call centre often hear an automated message telling them that call volume is too high and they must try again at another time. Callers are not given the option of requesting a call back.

“The system does not have that ability,” said the official. “Upgrades are necessary to do that and that is not a short-term fix.”

But Canadians have discovered that online callback form and have been sharing it on Facebook and Reddit, among other websites.

‘I figured it can’t hurt’

“I was up late worrying one night about how I was going to pay my rent and bills,” said Shelly Obholzer, a single mom who applied for EI but hadn’t received her money.

When she couldn’t get through to an agent over the phone, she found the form and gave it a shot.

“I figured it can’t hurt to see where it would go, considering I wasn’t able to get through (on the phone). Three days later I received a call … to my surprise it was a rep from Service Canada,” said Obholzer, adding that the agent sorted out her problem and told her to use the form again if she needed further assistance.

The form does not ask for any sensitive personal information. It asks for the applicant’s name, preferred language, location and phone number. It lists the applicant’s reasons for needing assistance; applicants can check off more than one box. There is a box at the bottom to type in details of the relevant problem.

Marina Mitchell applied for EI at the start of her maternity leave six weeks ago. She found the link to the callback form through a Google search which led her to the website of a financial and credit counselling company that was telling its clients about the form.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE: 

Unemployed during COVID 19? Here’s how to navigate federal programs

Unemployed during COVID 19? Here’s how to navigate federal programs

A quick look at some of the federal COVID-19 benefit programs and who qualifies for assistance:

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

The CERB pays a monthly $2,000 payment to workers who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for employment insurance.

That includes wage earners, contract workers, or self-employed individuals; those who’ve had to stay home without pay to self-isolate or care for loved ones; and anyone else who hasn’t been permanently laid off, but has stopped receiving paycheques.

Any Canadian who has stopped working for a 14-day period due to COVID-19 can qualify for the new benefit, which cover a period of up to 16 weeks.

Applications open online and by phone on Monday, April 6, with payments to arrive within five days for direct deposits and within 10 days for cheques by mail.

More information is available at www.canada.ca/coronavirus-CERB

Employment insurance

Any of the 1.3 million Canadians who have applied for EI benefits within the last two weeks and been approved will be moved over to the new emergency benefit when it becomes available. (Some recent EI applicants are slated to start receiving CERB payments within a week, according to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough.)

Benefits for workers who applied for EI on or after March 15 will mirror CERB payments for the first 16 weeks.

That means Canadians who would have received EI benefits below the $2,000-per-month threshold will now be bumped up to the maximum payment. Those who would normally qualify for more than $500 per week in employment insurance (the maximum benefit is $573 per week) will instead receive the CERB payment of $2,000.

EI-eligible workers will still qualify for their usual benefits, whether lower or higher than $2000-per-month, after the four-month CERB period

Canadians who were already receiving EI will continue to do so and need not apply to the CERB, but can switch to the program if their EI benefits end before October if they remain jobless due to COVID-19.

The government says EI-eligible workers should apply for EI now rather than wait for the CERB application to come online on April 6.

Wage subsidies

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy is a federal benefit that will pay 75 per cent of struggling companies’ wages _ up to $847 per week for each worker _ to keep their employees on payroll.

The $71-billion program includes organizations from bars and restaurants to charities, small businesses and large corporations, and is expected to last three months.

Employees receiving the benefit, which asks employers to cover the remaining 25 per cent of a worker’s wage if possible, cannot apply for other unemployment benefits.

The subsidy program will be available in six weeks, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Wednesday.

Business loans

Ottawa has also launched the Canada Emergency Business Account, which mandates government-guaranteed bank loans of up to $40,000 for small businesses. The loans will be interest-free for the first year and up to $10,000 can be waived for repayment.

COVID-19 and employment insurance – everything you need to know

The excerpted article was written by DLA Piper

Unprecedented numbers of Canadians are applying for Employment Insurance (“EI”) benefits due to an interruption in earnings caused by layoff, sickness or quarantine resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we explore some of the most common questions arising in relation to EI benefits at this time.

What changes have been announced to the EI benefits program in response to COVID-19?

Regular EI benefits

Employees who have been laid off by their employers as a result of business slowdowns or mandatory closures may be eligible to receive Regular EI benefits. Eligible employees may be entitled to receive a maximum of $573 per week for up to 45 weeks. To date, the federal government has not announced any changes to its Regular EI benefits program in response to COVID-19.

EI sickness benefits

Employees who are quarantined or sick due to COVID-19 may be eligible to receive EI sickness benefits up to a maximum amount of $573 per week for up to 15 weeks. Certain measures were adopted with respect to EI sickness benefits in order to respond to novel challenges posed by COVID-19. These measures include:

  • waiving of the one-week waiting period to allow new claimants who are quarantined to be paid for the first week of their claim;
  • the creation of a dedicated toll-free number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period (1-833-381-2725);
  • waiving of the obligation for people in quarantine to provide a medical certificate in support of their claim;
  • the possibility for quarantined employees to apply for EI benefits at a later date and to have their claim backdated to cover the period of the delay.

How do employees apply for EI benefits?

At this time, applications should be completed online by visiting the Service Canada website. Individuals who present themselves to Service Canada and who would otherwise be able to complete their application online will not be serviced in person. Employees who present themselves to a Service Canada office in person should expect to go through screening and to be required to practice social distancing measures. Employees experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should not visit or enter any Service Canada office and should call 1-800-O-Canada for assistance with completing their EI application.

What must employers do once employees have experienced an interruption in earnings?

Without delay, employers must issue a Record of Employment (“ROE”) as this is the most important document allowing employees to access EI benefits. In order to complete the ROE, employers should be aware of and use the following codes when indicating the reason for the interruption in employee earnings:

  • When the employee is sick or quarantined, use code D (Illness or injury) as the reason for separation ‎‎(block 16). Do not add comments.‎
  • When the employee is no longer working due to a shortage of work because the business has ‎closed or decreased operations due to coronavirus (COVID-19), use code A (Shortage of work). ‎Do not add comments.‎

How long will it take for employees to receive their EI benefits?

Under normal circumstances, eligible employees are told to expect to receive their first payment within 28 days of submitting a completed application. In the present circumstances and in light of the fact that an unprecedented amount of applications are being received, the processing delay may be longer.

What other financial measures are available to assist employees and employers who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19?

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

The Canadian government previously announced that it would make available an Emergency Care Benefit and an Emergency Support Benefit to employees who did not qualify for EI. On March 25, 2020, the government announced that it created a streamlined benefit, the “Canada Emergency Response Benefit” which combines these two benefits to streamline the application process and will provide $2,000 per month for four months to people who have lost their income due to COVID-19.

Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Plan

Employers who have no choice but to lay off their employees may elect to enroll in a Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Plan (SUB Plan) which allows employers to top up an employee’s employment insurance benefits during a period of unemployment due to a temporary or permanent layoff. The amount of the top up can be up to 95% of the employee’s weekly wages/salary, less the amount of the employee’s corresponding EI benefits.

Work-Sharing Program

The Government of Canada has instituted a “Work-Sharing Program” which exists to assist eligible ‎‎employers to avoid layoffs where there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business ‎activity, ‎namely as a result of COVID-19. Previously, a Work-Sharing Program ‎could only last for a maximum of ‎‎38 weeks, however the maximum period has been extended to 76 ‎weeks in response to COVID-19. ‎

Participating employees receive income support in exchange for agreeing to work a reduced schedule ‎‎and to share available work with other employees over a specified period of time. ‎

Provincial Measures

Additionally, many provincial governments across Canada have announced measures to assist their respective populations in overcoming what is a period of financial hardship for many. Employers and employees should verify if they are eligible for any such programs.

The COVID-19 situation is a rapidly evolving one with new measures being adopted or modified day-by-day and hour-by-hour. We recommend that you consult with a member of our Labour and Employment Team who will ensure that you are acting upon the most up-to-date information.

Source: Lexology

Ottawa receives over 500,000 new applications for Employment Insurance

ECONOMICS REPORTER | The Globe and Mail

A half-million Canadian workers filed for Employment Insurance benefits in the past four days alone, as evidence of the deep job losses related to COVID-19 quickly piled up and companies from a wide range of industries announced even more layoffs.

Employment and Social Development Canada said on Friday the department received about 500,000 applications for EI over the past four days, compared with just 27,000 in the same week a year ago.

“Service Canada and many government agencies have received a historic number of calls from concerned Canadians,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference. “I know people are anxious to get the help they deserve, and our government is working as fast as possible to support them.”

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted that 500,000 jobs represents 2.6 per cent of total Canadian employment, in line with the percentage of job losses in July, 1932, the worst month for employment during the Great Depression. “It seems clear to me that this is the sharpest negative shock we’ve ever seen,” he said on Twitter.

Economists at major banks slashed their economic forecasts even further. Scotiabank said the economy will contract at an annualized pace of nearly 11 per cent in the second quarter, and a “recession is now unavoidable.” It forecast the economy will shrink by 2.2 per cent this year, although it projected that growth will rebound by the fourth quarter. Bank of Montreal also lowered its second-quarter call to a 10 per cent contraction.

On Friday, companies in industries ranging from aviation to forestry to the arts laid off workers to stay viable amid the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19.

Just under 2,000 flight attendants at leisure airline Air Transat received layoff notices, said Julie Roberts, a union leader at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the workers.

Employees are not being paid during the layoffs, which start on April 5, and the notice gives no back-to-work date, Ms. Roberts said. The union is trying to obtain some kind of assistance for workers to help soften the impact, but has not had confirmation that will be offered, she said.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy, past two weeks,” said Ms. Roberts, who is also a flight attendant and is losing her job. “I’m really scared about making ends meet.”

The union is concerned about its members who don’t have enough hours to qualify for unemployment assistance, Ms. Roberts said. Some have been on leaves of absence and maternity leave.

Conversations about financial assistance are underway between airline companies and all levels of government, said a source familiar with the situation. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Political leaders are receptive, but other sectors are also asking for help, and there is no clarity on the timing or size of any aid package, the person said. National Airlines Council of Canada is involved and airlines are making their own individual cases, the person said.

Air Canada is laying off more than 5,100 flight attendants, including 3,600 from its mainline carrier and 1,549 from Air Canada Rouge. “This has been the most challenging time any of us will likely ever experience as flight attendants,” said Wesley Lesosky, who heads the Air Canada component of CUPE. The layoffs, effective Friday, are expected to last until at least April 30, CUPE said.

Aviation manufacturers are scaling back as demand dries up. Longview Aviation Capital Corp. is suspending new production of Dash 8-400 and Series 400 Twin Otter aircraft at facilities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Nearly 1,000 employees will be affected, the company said, adding that it hopes to restart manufacturing when conditions improve.

The Big Three automakers announced production suspensions across North America this week, and Canadian auto parts suppliers are grappling with the implications. “It’s never good to see the lights go out,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

Magna International Inc. is starting to suspend production at facilities around the world, with the exception of China, the company said on Thursday. Linamar Corp. is also assessing operations. “Clearly, the news of customer shutdowns this week globally will have an impact,” chief executive Linda Hasenfratz in a statement. “Each facility is developing plans with their customers and communicating to their employees what this means to them, including potential layoffs.”

The economic devastation of the pandemic is hitting large swaths of the economy, including the arts. The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity temporarily laid off 400 employees, about 75 per cent of its staff. “This was a difficult choice, but Banff Centre’s viability is our priority,” a statement from the centre said.

West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. is cutting lumber production in Western Canada and the United States, and suspending plywood production at a facility in B.C. As a result, the company is temporarily laying off employees at six sites, but does not have an exact number yet.

BRP Inc., the Canadian maker of Sea-Doo watercraft and Ski-Doo snowmobiles, suspended its dividend and said it drew down fully a $700-million credit line to prepare for a downturn. The company said it anticipates having to slow production lines or temporarily close facilities as demand slows.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce chief economist Avery Shenfeld, who is preparing to cut his own forecasts early next week, said the prospects for the economy to bounce back depend on when the COVID-19 outbreak can be contained. “How the second half [of 2020] shapes up is really about epidemiology, not economics,” he said.

5 things to know about Ottawa’s COVID 19 financial aid package

OTTAWA _ Five things to know about Ottawa’s $82-billion financial-aid package announced Wednesday to help weather the COVID-19 pandemic:

New emergency benefits

Ottawa is waiving the one-week waiting period to claim employment insurance sickness benefits. The government is also proposing a new emergency care benefit of up to $900 every two weeks for up to 15 weeks to help workers who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 or taking take of a sick family member, but do not qualify for employment insurance sickness benefits. The new benefit will also be available for parents who can’t earn employment income because they need to care for children, whether or not the parents qualify for employment insurance.

Increased benefits and top-ups

The government is moving to make a special one-time payment to those who receive the goods and services tax credit that will double the maximum annual payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year. The government is also proposing to increase the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year by $300 per child.

Help for businesses

The government wants to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage 10 per cent wage subsidy for three months. The payment will be up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Companies eligible will include those eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities.

Tax delays

The Canada Revenue is pushing back the income-tax filing deadline for individuals until June 1. For trusts with a taxation year the same as the calendar year the filing date will be deferred to May 1. The agency will also allow all businesses to defer, until after Aug. 31, 2020, income-tax payments on amounts that become owing between now and September 2020. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this period.

Other targeted aid

The government is providing $305 million for a new distinctions-based Indigenous community support fund for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nation communities. It is also placing a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans. The required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds are being cut by 25 per cent for 2020.

Lost your job because of COVID-19? Employment insurance might help.

Lost your job because of COVID-19? Employment insurance might help.

Rory McGouran | Discover Humboldt

Service Canada is ready to support Canadians affected by COVID-19 and placed in quarantine.

Individuals who are asked to stay at home, or who are in self-quarantine, can not always complete their work from home. Therefore, Service Canda has made special exceptions when it comes to Employment Insurance (EI) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as cough, fever, difficulty breathing or you are in self-isolation or quarantine, do not visit or enter any Service Canada office. As an alternative, you may access their services online or by calling 1 800 O-Canada.

Employment Insurance provides up to 15 weeks of income replacement for a variety of reasons for which one can not work. Canadians quarantined can apply for Employment Insurance sickness benefits.

According to Service Canada, they have put these support actions in place to help individuals in quarantine.

  • The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
  • Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period.
  • Priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for clients under quarantine.
  • People claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine will not have to provide a medical certificate.
  • People who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.

For the new dedicated EI toll-free phone number if you are in quarantine, call 1-833-381-2725

The website also offers vast information when it comes to Labour Programs and federally regulated workplaces, as well as Work-Sharing Programs.

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