Yes, you can get employment insurance (“EI”) regular benefits if you have “just cause” to quit your job. However, if you do not have so-called “just cause” to quit, and you quit your employment voluntarily, you will not be eligible for EI regular benefits. The Government of Canada will reject your application.
What are EI regular benefits?
When you quit for cause, you get EI regular benefits, not EI special benefits.
EI regular benefits are for people who lost their job usually because of a termination or layoff and therefore differ from EI special benefits like maternity benefits, which are for special temporary leaves of absence.
The reason why Canadians can, sometimes, receive EI regular benefits when they quit their job is that quitting for “just cause” is tantamount to termination or layoff. In both cases, the individual left their employment through “no fault of their own”.
Thus, essentially, you can receive EI if you quit your job because of “no fault of your own”. For instance, if your employer stopped paying you because it went broke, you had no choice but to leave work through no fault of your own.
What does it mean to have “just cause” to quit your job?
The rules for EI eligibility are governed by (1) the text of the Employment Insurance Act and its associated regulations. Next, (2) the text of the Employment Insurance Act and its associated regulations are interrupted by federal court judges and other administrative bodies who preside over EI application appeals and issue decisions (this is called jurisprudence). From both of these two sources, we get our answer to the question: What is just cause to quit your job?
Section 30 of the Employment Insurance Act says a “claimant is disqualified from [EI] if the claimant lost their employment because of their misconduct or voluntarily left their employment without just cause.” Thus, we know that a claimant is qualified for EI if they voluntarily left their employment with just cause.
Section 29 of the Employment Insurance Act defines just cause for voluntarily leaving employment as when the claimant “had no reasonable alternative to leaving, having regard to all the circumstances.”
Section 29(c) goes even further and provides a non-exhaustive list of circumstances where it is just cause to voluntarily leave work:
- sexual or other harassment,
- obligation to accompany a spouse, common-law partner or dependent child to another residence,
- discrimination on a prohibited ground of discrimination within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act,
- working conditions that constitute a danger to health or safety,
- obligation to care for a child or a member of the immediate family,
- reasonable assurance of another employment in the immediate future,
- significant modification of terms and conditions respecting wages or salary,
- excessive overtime work or refusal to pay for overtime work,
- significant changes in work duties,
- antagonism with a supervisor if the claimant is not primarily responsible for the antagonism,
- practices of an employer that are contrary to law,
- discrimination with regard to employment because of membership in an association, organization or union of workers,
- undue pressure by an employer on the claimant to leave their employment.
To be clear, the above examples are not the only reasons for just cause for quitting your job. They are just the most common.
Broadly, anything that causes a situation where you had no reasonable alternative but to quit your job will satisfy the EI and quitting with just cause test.
What does it mean that the only reasonable alternative for you is to quit your job? In cases where the employee finds it almost impossible to continue working for the employer, and a reasonable third-party looking in would agree, then it can be said he had no reasonable alternative but to quit his job.
From the jurisprudence, we know that situations where you had no reasonable alternative but to quit your job occur when it is clear there is no decent and agreeable solution to fix the problems at work. For example, if your hours were changed, you may not have just cause to quit your job if you did not explore reasonable amendments to the new hours or you rejected the reasonable amendments if they were offered to you. For instance, if you were told to come in 2 hours early every day and leave two hours earlier every day, and you did not try and negotiate a more accommodating change of schedule somehow, you may not have just cause to quit. On the contrary, you may have just cause if your employer refused to bargain with you. However, keep in mind that if the issue is serious as an assault at work for example, you may not have any reason to find an alternative “solution” and you can likely just quit immediately.
Furthermore, by analogy, most reasons for just cause for quitting your job can be grouped together under the classic definition of “constructive dismissal”. In other words, if you have been constructively dismissed, you likely have just cause to quit your job and you can likely claim EI (in addition to severance). However, no two cases are the same and the government’s decision to approve EI will always depend on the circumstances.
What is clear from the legislation and the jurisprudence is that you cannot receive EI if you quit your job just because you felt like it. You cannot quit your job because you didn’t feel like working anymore or because you wanted to pursue a travel vlog, for example. To get EI after quitting, you have to prove that you quit your job because something happened that made your job unreasonable, and you sought out alternatives at work to try and fix the situation (if it was reasonable to do so), but it was clear it was impossible to carry on.
In summary, in Canada, you can receive EI if you quit your job if you had just cause to quit. Just cause for quitting means you had no reasonable alternative but to quit.
How to quit and receive EI
When you are thinking of quitting because of just cause, measure whether a neutral third party would agree it is reasonable to do so. Determine if any solutions at work could resolve or alleviate the situation so that it is not impossible to stay.
If you find that there are no reasonable alternatives but to quit your job, then gather and document all the information about the scenario because you will need to demonstrate in your EI application that you had just cause. You will have to be very thorough and spend a significant amount of time stating your case. This is not a normal EI application. Getting EI for quitting is always scrutinized thoroughly and your employer will be allowed to tell their side of the story after you complete your application. You may even be asked to make several follow-up documents to further your case.
When you take the initiative to voluntarily quit your job, it is your responsibility to provide information and explanation as to what happened, the approach you took and the reasonable alternatives you have considered before finally deciding to voluntarily quit your job.Government of Canada
After you have gathered your information and prepared your draft story, start an EI regular benefits application on the Government of Canada website and when you are asked to provide a reason for the EI application a few steps in, say you quit and explain what happened that caused you to quit in the text area box or attach a document if you need more space.
If you believe you may have just cause to quit your job, you might have been constructively dismissed. In that case, call our employment law group for a free consultation if you are located in Ontario only.
Jeff is an employment lawyer in Toronto. He is the Principal of the Dutton Employment Law Group at Monkhouse Law. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles.