In last spring’s federal budget, the government signalled its intention to tighten-up the criteria around EI claimant job searches. Claimants have always been expected to be actively looking for work, in order to qualify for regular benefits, but these changes, made effective this January 6, now define specific criteria on how claimants are expected to prove their availability for work.
However, when researching these, I did not expect that these changes would also have overturned long-standing principles that defined when a person would be considered as being available for work, and hence eligible for regular benefits. What’s surprising is that this aspect of the January 6 changes has received no coverage in any of the media, including those that focus on employment related issues. One reason might be that currently the only source to obtain the text of these changes is the Canada Gazette (http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2012/2012-12-19/pdf/g2-14626.pdf, SOR/2012-261). The online version of the EI regulations have only now been updated to reflect these changes.
The gist of these January 6 regulations (sections 9.001 to 9.004 inclusive) is that they create a new legislative definition of “suitable employment”. To qualify for regular benefits, claimants have to be able to demonstrate a willingness to seek out and accept “suitable employment”. Or rather, EI benefits can be denied claimants who can’t prove they are seeking “suitable employment”.
Among other things, “suitable employment” now means a job that the claimant’s health and physical abilities permit both the person to get to and the person to perform. As well, the hours of work must be compatible with both the claimant’s family obligations and his or her religious beliefs. Further, the nature of the work must not be contrary to the person’s moral convictions or religious beliefs.
The simplest way of illustrating these changes, is with an example. Readers would be cautioned, however, that EI legislation is quite complex and there are many grounds on which a person may be disqualified or disentitled from receiving benefits. The following example is only meant to illustrate the impact of the new “suitable employment” definition. In an article of this length, it’s not possible to cover all of the potential grounds on which a person may be denied benefits.
It’s now common for both parents to work, and in the summer, when school is out, it can be difficult to find day care for school-aged children. For example, one parent may have a 9 to 5 job, with no one else able to care for the family’s children. If the other parent had to quit a job to stay at home to care for such children, previously the EI Commission would have held that this need was an unreasonable restriction on this parent’s availability for work. This decision would have been based on how courts have over time interpreted the conditions that claimants may reasonably impose on job searches, and still be eligible for benefits.
The new January 6 regulations replace all of these prior court-based principles. Now, the limitations that claimants can impose on their availability for work are defined by these new regulations.
In the example above, the parent who was required to stay at home during the summer months to care for school-aged children could no longer be denied regular benefits on the basis that he or she was not “available” for work. This is because a job that conflicted with such family obligations is no longer “suitable employment” for this claimant. To demonstrate availability, such a claimant would now only have to demonstrate a search for jobs that could accommodate this person’s need to be at home, during the hours while the other parent was away at work.
While this is a sweeping change in policy, there has been no mention of it in any of the government’s communications around these January 6 changes. As such, it’s hard to understand that the example above is what the government really meant when these January 6 regulations were drafted. However, that’s clearly what they mean, so time will tell what the government’s response will be.
Alan McEwen is a payroll consultant and freelance writer with over 20 years’ experience in all aspects of the industry. He can be reached at email@example.com, (905) 401-4052 or visit www.alanrmcewen.com for more information.