You will still require between 12 to 20 weeks of work in the last year to qualify, depending on the region of Canada in which you live. The higher the rate of unemployment, the fewer number of weeks of work are required. You will require a minimum of 26 weeks of insured employment if you are entering the workforce for the first time or re-entering the workforce after an absence of two years or more, or if you have less than 14 weeks of employment in your first year entering or re-entering the workforce.

For maternity/paternity benefits, you will still require 20 weeks of work.

A new hours of work formula (instead of determining eligibility based on "weeks" of work) comes into effect on January 1, 1997. Every hour of work will count. The minimum number of hours required to qualify will be from 420 to 700 again, depending on the unemployment rate in your region. The higher the rate of unemployment in your area, the fewer number of hours of work are required. The requirement for a new entrant or a re-entrant to the workforce will be 910 hours (equivalent to 26 weeks of work at 35 hours per week).

The benefits will be 55% of your average insured earnings, up to a maximum of $413 per week. People who earn $375 a week or less and who have dependents, will still receive 60% of their average insured earnings.

Claimants with children and a family income under $25,921 will be entitled to a Family Income Supplement, representing up to 65% of their insured earnings. These claimants will also be exempt from the intensity rule (see below).

Claimants receiving benefits of less than $200 per week will be able to earn up to $50 per week without penalty against their EI benefits.

The new EI system contains stronger penalties for fraud. Fraud, intentional illegal deception, includes claimants knowingly failing to declare earnings from work and employers knowingly issuing a false Record of Employment. Claimants who commit fraud could see their eligibility requirements increase anywhere from 25% to 100%. Employers will also face tougher penalties. In cases of employer/employee collusion, employer penalties will be equal to the full value of the claimant penalties arising from the employer fraud. Corporate directors who do not exercise due diligence in preventing fraud can now be held liable for employer penalties if for some reason a business cannot pay the penalties.

Most claimants will receive between 36 and 44 weeks of benefits; the maximum being 45 weeks.

There is a new "intensity rule" which applies to claimants who make extensive use of EI. For every additional 20 weeks of benefits after the first 20 weeks collected in a five-year period, claimants will see their regular benefit rate reduced by 1% to a maximum of 5%. As of July 1, 1996 no one will be affected by the new Intensity Rule. However, any weeks of benefits collected after July 1 will be taken into account for determining the benefit rate for future claims. Claimants receiving the Family Income Supplement will be exempt from the intensity rule.

For more information, please visit Human Resources Development Canada web site at HRDC is the federal government department which administers the EI system.

Editor's Note: cannot vouch for the link in perpetuity, but I strongly recommend UBC Faculty of Law wonderful resource, the Law Students' Legal Advice Program which, contained, as of May 27, 2001, a full chapter on the Employment Insurance.

This article published on July 13, 1996.
Copyright Lloyd Duhaime.