On Tuesday, Adam Vettorel made soup for his staff.
It was a veggie minestrone soup, packed full of the produce that would otherwise sit and rot in the fridge of his Ottawa restaurant, North & Navy, where he is the chef/owner.
Vettorel laid off nearly all of his staff over the weekend in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he made the soup because he didn’t know what else to do, and so there was something for staff as they picked up their records of employment (ROE) from the restaurant, a vital document for applying for employment insurance (EI).
EI is a government assistance program that provides temporary income for unemployed workers in Canada. It’s funded by premiums paid by employed Canadians. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s going to become an invaluable resource for many.
Vettorel is one of thousands of small business owners forced to make the difficult decision to close or partially close during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We closed on Sunday — halfway through dinner service we wrapped things up,” he told HuffPost Canada. “Financially, we haven’t even really wrapped our heads around what it’s going to be like.”
Provinces like Ontario have declared states of emergency, leading to the mandated closures of daycares, theatres and restaurants and bars (except for takeout and delivery orders). Some businesses have already chosen to close temporarily on their own.
Many big companies like Lululemon and Lush have promised to pay out employee wages while stores are closed. But for many workers from small businesses like Vettorel’s, they will soon rely on EI to get by.
“It’s a horrible situation,” Vettorel said. “And it makes me feel horrible.”
‘... you owe it to them to lay them off’
Vettorel says the best thing small business owners can do is lay off their employees sooner rather than later, because they cannot collect EI until they get that record of employment.
“If you’re not going to be paying them, you owe it to them to lay them off immediately, because otherwise they have no recourse,” he said. “Once they’re laid off, then they can start applying for EI.”
Vetterol said his office manager read up on EI and offered assistance to former workers. Laid-off staff came into the restaurant on Monday and sat around laptops, filling out the Government of Canada’s online EI form.
Vettorel said further assistance for workers and small business is needed “drastically,” but in the meantime, laid-off workers should “fight like f**king hell” to receive EI payments.
“Every paycheque you’ve ever gotten has taken money from you,” he said. “So you’re not asking for a handout, you’re asking for money back that you paid.”
Here’s how to apply for EI.
What is employment insurance (EI)?
There are two types of EI that apply if you lost your job because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
EI sickness benefits provide up to 15 weeks of income replacement for employees unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine. If you’re quarantined, you can apply for sickness benefits.
EI regular benefits apply to people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, such as mass layoffs or a shortage of work.
While the percentage of money you can receive varies from person to person, according to the federal government, for most people, the basic rate for calculating EI benefits is 55 per cent of your average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount of $573 a week.
You can receive EI from 14 weeks to a maximum of 45 weeks.
Do you qualify?
The COVID-19-related changes to the EI system announced this month will speed up access to sickness benefits, but they won’t change who qualifies for EI in the first place.
According to the Government of Canada, you qualify for regular EI if you:
- Were employed in insurable employment
- Lost your job through no fault of your own
- Have been without work and without pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks
- Have worked for the required number of insurable employment hours in the last 52 weeks or since the start of your last EI claim, whichever is shorter
- Are ready, willing and capable of working each day
- Are actively looking for work.
If you don’t meet these requirements, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced an Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks for workers who do not have access to paid sick leave or and employment insurance. This would include:
- The self-employed, who are sick, quarantined or who have been directed to self-isolate
- Those taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent or other sick dependents
- EI-eligible and non EI-eligible working parents who must stay home without pay to care for their children.
Trudeau also announced an Emergency Support Benefit of up to $5 billion to support laid-off workers who are not eligible for EI, but did not give specific details.
Both can be applied for through your Canada Revenue Agency account, and will be open for applications in April.
How do you apply for EI?
If you’re in a quarantine or sickness situation, Service Canada has waived the regular one-week waiting period and set up a special COVID-19-related hotline at 1-833-381-2725.
You can apply online for sickness EI here. You’ll need proof of employment documentation as well as documentation from a medical practitioner.
Apply for regular EI here, using a record of employment and other personal documentation. Note: It can take up to 60 minutes to fill out the online forms.
For more information on the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit, check out the Government of Canada website.
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