Prepare for Talks with Canadian Employment Insurance Officers

By Catherine Skrzypinski October 25, 2019
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​In Canada, HR professionals and employers need to navigate the country's employment insurance (EI) program after firing employees. Legal experts say HR must assess an employee's situation before speaking with an EI officer.

Canada's federal EI program provides temporary income support—EI benefits—to unemployed workers while they look for a new job or upgrade their skills, according to Employment and Social Development Canada. The EI program also provides special benefits to workers who take time off because of life events such as illness, taking maternity or paternity leave, or caring for a newborn or adopted child, sick or injured person or terminally ill relative.

If a Canadian is looking for work after losing a job, EI may be available, said Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver, British Columbia. "Before a person receives those benefits, employers must file paperwork on behalf of the employee who no longer works at the company."

EI officers are responsible for processing EI claims, which involves assessing if someone is eligible for EI benefits, explained Claire-Marie Colantuoni, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Toronto. If so, they then determine the amount and duration of benefits.

According to Service Canada, a federal institution for Canadians to access government services and benefits, Canadian workers in the private or public sectors are eligible for EI benefits if they meet the following requirements:

  • Have a job covered by the EI system.
  • Have been without work and 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 their last EI claim, whichever is shorter.
  • Are ready, willing and capable of working each day.
  • Are actively looking for work.

"Most employees in Canada, whether working in the private or public sector, are eligible for EI benefits if they have lost their employment [through] no fault of their own," said Sophie Arseneault, an attorney with Fasken in Ottawa, Ontario.

When an EI Officer Calls

Experts in employment and labor law say there are occasions when EI officers call employers to clarify a record of employment (ROE) filed with Service Canada. This may include clarifying a former employee's last day worked, insurable earnings or the reason for issuing the ROE, stated Cristina Tomaino, an attorney with Crawford Chondon & Partners LLP in Brampton, Ontario.

The ROE is the most important document in the EI program, according to Service Canada.

"An employer must issue an ROE whenever an employee stops working and experiences an interruption in earnings," Colantuoni said. The employer "must issue the ROE within five days after the employee's last day of work, regardless of why the employee left the job."

If an employer issued an ROE, it is almost certain—unless the employee does not apply for EI benefits—that an EI officer will try to contact the employer, Arseneault added.

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Tips for Talking with EI Officers

Experts say employers and HR professionals should do the following if contacted by an EI officer:

  • Do not ignore the EI officer's calls. "In most cases, EI officers will call without notice and seek clarifications about the ROE," Arseneault said. "Often, employers did not expect the call."
  • Do not feel obligated to respond right away, particularly if you need to gather and review relevant information. Colantuoni suggested that employers acknowledge any request or correspondence, but they should be cautious about giving lengthy responses. Tomaino added that HR should make note of the questions and ask for a reasonable time frame to respond.
  • Honesty is the best policy. Pau said HR should share the reasons why the company dismissed an employee.
  • Do not provide confidential information about the employee. The call is only to determine if an employee is eligible for benefits, she noted.

Experts say it may be worthwhile to seek out legal advice before responding to an EI officer.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.

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