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Disability Insurance

Learn How Employment Insurance Impacts Disability Benefits in BC

British Columbians seeking financial support while suffering from illness or injury may have a number of benefit options to choose from. Pursuing Employment Insurance (EI) or disability benefits can depend on a variety of factors, including what medical condition you suffer from, your long-term medical prognosis, the benefits offered by your job, and whether you currently receive any financial support for your condition.

Those who have received temporary unemployment (formally called “EI benefits”) may decide that their medical condition warrants long-term disability benefits. Disability and unemployment can help you get through difficult times. But switching from unemployment to disability requires navigating the complex private disability insurance system. The expert disability lawyers at Stephens & Holman can help you determine what benefits you may qualify for and how to navigate the path from EI benefits to long-term disability.

EI Benefits

In British Columbia, employment insurance, sometimes referred to as unemployment insurance, are the benefits provided to individuals who are let go from their jobs through no fault of their own. Benefits are offered to those who are laid off due to a reduction in the workforce or a general shortage of work in specific professions or industries.

Specific types of EI benefits are designed to provide recipients with financial support during life events that can result in an employee needing time off from their job. Examples include:

  • Illness
  • Pregnancy and parental leave
  • Caring for a loved one who is unwell

EI sickness benefits provide financial support when a person is unable to work due to illness or injury. As of December 18, 2022, EI sickness benefits compensate recipients for 55% of their earnings or $650 a week for 26 consecutive weeks. The new schedule represents a significant adjustment from the previous one, in which benefits recipients were granted benefits for 15 weeks.

EI sickness benefits are a government program and a de facto alternative to short-term disability for those that don’t qualify or don’t have access to short-term disability through their employer. Employers and employees both pay into EI benefits so they are available when workers need them. EI sickness benefits are only accessible to workers who have worked at least 600 hours in their current job in the previous 52 weeks and have exhausted the sick leave offered by their employer.

Benefit Eligibility

Any interruptions or prolonged periods of unemployment could disqualify you from receiving disability or EI.

While eligibility for EI sickness benefits is not the same as a short-term disability, you may be eligible for both. However, you cannot receive either regular EI benefits or EI sickness benefits while also collecting disability. An individual can first receive EI benefits and later be approved for short-term disability but if there is an overlap, they would need to return the redundant EI benefits. You can be approved for short-term disability after being on EI benefits. Benefit recipients are also permitted to apply for EI after their short-term disability benefits eligibility has expired.

Comparing Disability and Unemployment

Disability insurance is an employer-based benefit offered by some employers. Eligibility for short- or long-term disability differs from EI benefits and is intended for those with more serious prolonged injury or illness. Compared to EI benefits, disability typically pays a larger portion of your regular pay. Every disability plan is different but plans are required by federal law to provide recipients with at least what is offered by EI programs, or 55% of their income. Long-term disability generally compensates at higher rates than any of the programs discussed here because it replaces lost income over a prolonged period rather than acting as a short-term safety net.

Short-term Disability

Short-term disability may be available through your employer (or if you are self-employed, can be purchased through an insurance marketplace). Compensation for short-term disability covers 60% to 85% of your regular pay at the time you qualify for short-term disability, up to a maximum of $650 weekly. Your benefit rate depends on a number of factors, including the number of dependents you have and your current income. You can receive short-term disability benefits for up to six months. To use short-term disability or EI benefits, employees must first exhaust the sick time provided by their employer.

Long-term Disability

Individuals with a chronic or permanent illness or injury may be eligible for long-term disability benefits. Specific eligibility requirements can differ by plan. Note that some disability plans require an individual to be unable to perform a portion of their job’s total responsibilities (commonly 75%) or the responsibilities of any other available job.

Those transitioning to long-term disability generally do so from EI sickness or short-term disability. However, this is not a requirement for long-term disability benefits. Individuals who are wrongfully denied short-term disability benefits can still receive long-term disability compensation. Long-term disability benefits range from 50% to 80% of regular pay, with most benefit recipients receiving 60% to 70% of their previous income. You can receive long-term disability for up to two years. After that, recipients are re-evaluated and their benefits can change.

Applying for Benefits

EI Applications

Applying for EI benefits can be relatively straightforward. Any qualified medical professional such as a physician can attest to your illness or injury with a Medical Certificate for Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits form, or the doctor’s own medical certificate form. This document, along with an EI application, is among a handful of items you need to take advantage of EI benefits.

Disability Applications

You can file for short-term disability after your EI benefits have expired. Long-term disability applicants typically exhaust EI benefits and short-term disability prior to applying.

Unlike those receiving EI benefits, individuals seeking short- or long-term disability apply through their employer’s insurance company and have their eligibility determined by a doctor employed by the insurance company. The level of scrutiny to receive disability benefits is significantly higher and can require the help of a lawyer to complete your application, acquire the necessary supporting documents, and organize your claim in a way that provides a compelling reason as to why you are unable to work.