COVID-19: Can I get EI Sick Benefits?

By David Brannen

It’s the question on everyone’s mind right now: Can I get EI sickness benefits if I’m sick or quarantined due to coronavirus? 

In this article, we review what you need to know to apply for and receive EI sickness benefits if you’re affected by COVID-19 in one the following ways: 

  • You are laid off by your employer because of economic downturn or government orders to close workplaces because of COVID-19
  • You are placed in temporary quarantine due to possible COVID-19
  • You are sick with COVID-19

What are EI Sick Benefits?

EI sickness benefits are weekly loss of income payments paid through the federal government’s Employment Insurance program. While EI is best known for paying benefits to unemployed workers, it also pays sickness benefits to eligible workers. These benefits are paid weekly to eligible workers who cannot work because of illness, injury, or quarantine. 

EI Sick Benefits vs. Regular EI Benefits

Where EI sickness benefits are paid based on you being affected by an illness, injury or quarantine, regular EI benefits are paid based on you being laid off. 

We have received reports that Service Canada is interpreting “quarantine” broadly to include people who are laid off because of government-ordered business closures. This is happening in the hospitality and restaurant industry, and at non-essential health services clinics. 

Generally speaking, if you have been laid off, it would be better for you to receive regular EI benefits rather than sick leave benefits for quarantine. EI sickness benefits pay a maximum of 15 weeks; regular EI benefits pay for up to 45 weeks. 

If you're receiving EI sickness benefits only on the basis of quarantine, then those benefits could end abruptly if the quarantine ends — even if you're not called back to work.  Regular EI benefits would be paid regardless of the quarantine status until you are called back to to work or reach the maximum payment period. 

Who qualifies for EI Sick Benefits?

You must be an "eligible worker" to qualify for EI sickness benefits. Eligible workers include employees or self-employed people who have made the minimum required payments into the EI program.

The specific requirements are as follows:

  • Your income must be reduced by at least 40% because of illness, sickness or quarantine
  • You must be employed by a qualified employer or registered with the program if you are self-employed
  • You must have worked at least 600 hours of insurable employment during the 52 weeks leading up to your last day of work

Being off work because of illness, sickness or quarantine is the key difference between EI sickness benefits and regular EI benefits. The latter are only paid to people who are laid off or fired without cause. 

How much are EI Sickness payments?

If you qualify for EI sickness benefits, your payment is 55% of your weekly earnings up to a maximum of $573 per week. There is a family supplement available for people with a net family income of $25,921 or less who have at least one child under the age of 18. 

Is there a waiting period for EI Sick benefits?

Effective March 11, 2020, the Government of Canada announced that they will waive the normal one-week waiting period for those affected by coronavirus. This means you can qualify for benefits to be paid starting on the first day you had to stop work because of illness or quarantine. 

So, with the waiting period removed, you can get full EI sickness benefits for the entire 14 day mandatory quarantine period. 

Do I need a doctor’s note?

Typically, your doctor needs to fill out a medical certificate for you to qualify for EI sickness benefits. However, as of March 11, 2020, the government also waived the requirement of a medical certificate for people being placed on quarantine for COVID-19. 

If you're sick beyond the quarantine period, or if your claim is related to sickness only and not quarantine, then you will need to provide a medical certificate. 

What qualifies as a “quarantine” to apply for EI sick benefits?

EI sickness benefits are paid to people who cannot work because of illness, injury or quarantine. But what does it mean to be under quarantine? There is a lot of confusion about this right now.

Normally, “quarantine” means that you have been placed under official quarantine by a public health official or doctor. When this happens, you should receive official notice or paperwork from a public health official; therefore, the normal “proof” required is a copy of the quarantine letter or order from public health or a note from your doctor. 

But what about the current situation with COVID-19 where we are seeing things like layoffs, government-recommended social distancing, city lockdowns, self-quarantine, or quarantine being imposed by an employer?

In this unique situation, the definition of quarantine has been extended to include people who are laid off because of government-ordered closures. 

New: Canada Emergency Response Benefit 

On March 25, 2020, the Federal Government announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), an income replacement benefit of $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be updating on this benefit in the coming days as more information becomes available. 

For more information, read:
Canada Emergency Response Benefit: What you need to know

Final Thoughts  

Work directly with Service Canada to determine if you qualify for EI benefits —  and and if so, which  program you should be paid under. If you are laid off from work but placed in the EI sickness program, you may be able to transition over to regular EI once your quarantine period ends. At this point, focus on getting benefits paid, rather than what program they want to put you in. Given the current crisis and strain on the system, you're not going to be able to easily dispute payments or the program you're placed in. 

Please note: The team here at Resolute Legal does not represent people who have disputes over EI benefits. We are unable to answer specific questions about your EI situation beyond the information in the article. If you have specific questions, we urge you to call Service Canada directly.


Sick Leave Guide learn more


This article was originally posted on March 19, 2020. It was updated on March 27, 2020, with new information regarding CERB. 

Tags: EI Sickness

David Brannen
Founder & Managing Lawyer, Resolute Legal
As Resolute Legal's managing lawyer, David spends his days representing people with disability claims and overseeing other disability lawyers within the firm. David is a former occupational therapist and is one of the few lawyers in Canada who focus exclusively on disability-related claims. David is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Disability Insurance Claims in Canada and The Beginner's Guide to CPP Disability.