Yes, a worker can quit their job due to stress and still receive employment insurance (“EI”) if they can prove that they had no reasonable alternative but to resign.
Normally, workers who quit their job voluntarily are not entitled to EI. However, workers who quit can access EI regular benefits if they had “just cause” to quit. Where carrying on working constitutes a danger to a worker’s health because of extraordinary stress, it can be just cause to quit a job if there is no alternative.
The legal test to determine whether someone who quits their job is entitled to EI in Canada is as follows:
Section 28 of the Employment Insurance Act disqualifies a claimant from EI if they voluntarily left their job without just cause.
“Just cause” is defined in section 28, subsection (4):
“For the purposes of this section, “just cause’ for voluntarily leaving employment exists where having regard to all the circumstances, including any of the following circumstances, the claimant had no reasonable alternative to leaving the employment:
(d) working conditions that constitute a danger to health or safety [this is the appropriate section for stress-related concerns at work].”
….Employment Insurance Act
The legal onus is on the worker to prove that they had “just cause” for quitting. Just cause is assessed objectively. It is not sufficient for the worker to show that they had a good reason or motive for leaving. “Good cause” is not “just cause” and mere dislike of one’s employment will not constitute just cause for leaving. And the jurisprudence has clearly established that simple unsatisfactory working conditions do not generally constitute just cause for quitting one’s employment unless they are so intolerable that the employee has no other choice but to separate from that employment.
Not to mention, proving just cause for quitting for any reason is difficult because such an application will be scrutinized far more than regular EI applications for terminated workers.
Proving Just Cause to Quit for EI
To satisfactorily prove just cause for resignation because of stress, i.e. that a worker had no reasonable alternative but to resign because of stress, a worker must provide the following information to Service Canada:
- medical evidence of stress, and
- evidence that they attempted to reach an agreement with the employer to accommodate the health concerns, but that failed.
First, workers will have to work with their doctor to produce a medical certificate that shows the worker suffers from extraordinary stress that makes work unbearable and, even better, allows the conclusion that the cause of the stress is causally related to work.
Second, a worker will have to show evidence that they tried to work with their employer on accommodation for the stress, but that the employer was not able to accommodate reasonably.
It is incumbent on workers to gather all the required information before they apply for EI.
A worker cannot expect to succeed in their claim for EI if they haven’t seen a doctor, multiple times (usually) and prepared in advance a thorough medical report.
The medical report must sufficiently show that the stress suffered by the worker has become so unbearable as to leave them with no choice but to quit. A worker should not just submit a one or two-line note from a walk-in clinic doctor saying the worker is experiencing stress. Rather, the worker should persuade their family doctor or mental health specialist doctor to give them a thorough stress examination in line with the medical standards for such testing at the time and prepare a detailed letter explaining the diagnosis and limitations of the worker.
Moreover, it is required that the worker prepare a detailed and lengthy statement showing that the worker’s work is casually related to the stress and, more importantly, that there is no reasonable alternative but to quit.
A worker will have to show that they tried to work with the employer through written evidence that that the worker made reasonable requests for accommodation at work but that the employer refused. Reasonable accommodations vary depending on whether the stress arises from the work environment or the workers’ personal life. When the stress is caused by staff relations, working conditions or relations with co-workers, reasonable solutions could include:
- discussing the situation with the employer requesting redress or adjustments;
- requesting a transfer to other duties, another division, or working under someone else’s supervision.
Note: If a worker’s stress is caused by toxic, discriminatory or harassing behaviour at work, it could be that the worker is entitled to both EI and damages for constructive dismissal.
Summary: Stress and EI
In conclusion, the onus is on a claimant to establish just cause for voluntarily leaving their employment where they allege that work is detrimental to their health because of stress. There is a further onus to show some effort on his part to remedy the deleterious working conditions before quitting the job.
Caution: The above information only applies to workers who would normally be entitled to EI because they were employed in insurable employment, have been without work and without pay for at least 7 consecutive days and 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. Only workers who meet these requirements will be allowed EI. Read more here.
Other Financial Remedies for Stressed-Out Workers
Alternately, a worker suffering from stress can access EI sickness benefits instead of EI regular benefits if they choose not to quit. In the case of EI sickness benefits, a worker doesn’t need to quit. All they have to do is take a temporary stress leave of absence and get a medical certificate to show that they’re unable to work for medical reasons. However, EI sickness benefits only last 15 weeks. EI regular benefits last up to a maximum of 45 weeks).
In the further alternative, workers who are suffering from significant stress who have Short Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance Benefits may choose to access those benefits before applying for EI regular or sickness benefits. Normally STD and LTD insurance pays a lot more than EI. However, not every workplace provides its employees with STD and LTD insurance (it is not mandatory).
Jeff is a lawyer in Toronto who works for a technology startup. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles. Jeff is interested in Canadian business, technology and law, and this blog is his platform to share his views and tips in those areas.