Employment Insurance – Suitable work and Reasonable job search

New definitions of “suitable work” and “reasonable job search” provide clear guidelines on the type of work claimants should consider based on their past premium contributions and use of the EI program.

Are you forcing people to accept low-paying jobs?

No. These changes make sure that claimants are better off financially by accepting a job than by receiving EI alone. They will help Canadians stay connected to the job market, and personal circumstances will always be considered when determining if a job is suitable.

Is the need to look for work new?

No. EI regular and fishing claimants have always had to look for work and accept suitable employment when available. Those who do not look for work risk losing their EI benefits; however, claimants who disagree with a decision regarding their claim will always have the right to appeal.

If there are no jobs, will people lose their benefits?

No. As long as claimants make a reasonable effort to look for suitable work, EI will continue to be there as it always has been.

Will people be forced to move to find work?

No. People will not have to move to find a job. Claimants are expected to look for work within a one-hour commute from their home. Commuting time may be longer depending on a claimant’s previous commuting history or the average commute time for the claimant’s community. Personal circumstances, such as access to public transportation, will also be taken into account.

Is there help to find available jobs?

Yes! The improved Job Alerts system can help Canadians find out about local jobs; subscribe at Job Bank.


Example 1: How the EI changes work.

Sarah is a single mother of three, living in rural British Columbia. Each year, she works for several months on a local farm making $560 per week and is laid off each November. She receives $308 in EI regular benefits each week.

As a frequent EI claimant, she is required to look for work in similar occupations of at least $448 per week (80 percent of her previous wages) during the first six weeks of her claim. Beginning week seven, she must expand her search to any job for which she is qualified that offers a minimum of $392 per week (70 percent of her previous wages).

She expands her search as required, and ten weeks into her claim Sarah is offered a minimum-wage full-time job in Kelowna that offers $410 per week. There is no public transportation available to get to the job, which is located approximately 50 minutes from Sarah’s home by car. If Sarah were to accept the job offer, she would incur a cost of $100 in gas to commute to work every week, plus additional childcare expenses. Sarah turns down the job offer since she would be worse-off financially accepting the job than collecting EI regular benefits.

When she explains the circumstances, Service Canada agrees that the job offer was not suitable employment for Sarah. As a result, she will continue to receive EI regular benefits while looking for work.

Michelle is a substitute teacher in rural Quebec who makes $800 per week on average while covering for a teacher on maternity leave. Her employment ends when the woman returns to work and there is no position available at the school.

Since she has had several EI claims over the past five years, Michelle is categorized as a frequent claimant. As such, her job search must immediately include similar occupations that offer a wage of at least $640 per week (80 percent of her previous wage). At seven weeks, she must include any position she is qualified for that offers at least $560 per week (70 percent of her previous wages).

Michelle lives in a small community where there are limited or no employment opportunities. She continues to look for job opportunities in the local newspapers and online and continues to network with friends and former colleagues for potential opportunities in their organization. Despite her best efforts, she is unable to find suitable employment.

While she has discovered two positions available at a local mall, these jobs will only pay minimum wage, which is well below 70 percent of her previous wage. As a result, Michelle would not be required to accept these positions and would continue to receive EI regular benefits.

Aaron was working as a forklift operator making $1,100 per week in Saskatoon. He was laid off when the owner relocated the business to Regina.

Aaron has received 40 weeks of EI regular benefits over the previous five years, so he is considered an occasional claimant. As per the EI Regulations, at week seven Aaron is required to expand his job search to include similar work that offers a wage of at least 80 percent of his previous earnings. Aaron is directed to attend a client information session. At the session, he is reminded of his responsibility to undertake a job search that must include similar occupations that offer a wage of at least 80 percent of his previous earnings, and that he must submit a job search record when requested. Service Canada also informs Aaron of the various supports available to assist him in finding work, including the Job Alerts system.

Service Canada contacts Aaron two weeks later to follow up on his job search efforts. He has not registered for Job Alerts and has not expanded his job search beyond forklift operator. As a result, Service Canada determines that Aaron is not fulfilling his responsibility to undertake a reasonable job search for suitable employment and his EI regular benefits are suspended.

Two weeks after having his EI regular benefits suspended, Aaron submits a detailed job search record that demonstrates he is undertaking a search for suitable employment that includes opportunities beyond forklift operator. Using this information, Service Canada re-examines Aaron’s claim and reinstates his EI regular benefits. Through his active job search, including Job Alerts, Aaron is successful in securing a job as material handler, earning 85 percent of his previous wage.

Example 2: How to conduct a job search

Long-tenured workers

Susan lives in Toronto and has worked as an engineer in the automotive technology industry for the past 15 years. She had been making $1,200 per week, but during the recent economic downturn, her company was forced to permanently close the doors of its Canadian operation due to decreasing sales.

Susan is collecting EI for the first time in her career. She has been looking for another engineering job in the automotive sector for the past two months while receiving the 2013 maximum of $501 per week in EI regular benefits, but the industry has not recovered from the downturn.

Under the new regulations, Susan is considered to be a long-tenured worker. As such, during the first 18 weeks of her EI claim, she can limit her job search to employment in her previous field that offers at least 90 percent of her previous weekly earnings, or $1,080 per week.

To support her job search, Susan registers for the new, enhanced Job Alerts system where she can tailor the information she receives by occupation and region that might interest her. Through Job Alerts, she receives new job listings in her current and related occupations daily. She is also able to receive labour market information, such as current wage rates, from the Job Bank website, which will help inform her decision-making.

As with any other claimant receiving EI regular benefits, she is required to keep a log of her job-search activities and submit it to Service Canada upon request. Susan can also go to her provincial employment services provider to get additional support (for example, counselling and skills training) to help her make a successful transition back into the workforce.

Through Job Alerts, Susan is able to identify a number of job opportunities in her region. She applies for them and is able to successfully transition back into the workforce.

Occasional claimant

Joe lives in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and works in the oil and gas industry as a heavy equipment operator. Over the previous five years, Joe has been employed with several companies in Grande Prairie and has collected more than 35 weeks of EI regular benefits

During the year before his claim, he was earning $800 on average per week. Unfortunately, his last employer recently closed operations. He has been on an EI claim for eight weeks and has been receiving $440 in EI regular benefits per week. There are a number of oil and gas companies within 30 minutes of Grande Prairie that are hiring heavy equipment operators.

Under the new regulations, Joe is considered an occasional claimant and, as of the seventh week of his claim, has been required to expand his job search to include similar occupations that offer at least 80 percent of his previous wage, or $640 per week.

Joe is required to demonstrate that he has conducted an adequate job search. He is also reminded of his obligations while on EI and is given information on employment services. Joe is able to provide the requested information and continues his search.

Joe chooses to register with the enhanced Job Alerts system to receive daily notifications of new job postings and sees his provincial employment services provider to get help revising his résumé. Joe is able to quickly identify and apply to various companies that are looking for heavy equipment operators, not only in the oil and gas sector, but also within the utilities and the construction industries. Joe applies for a number of jobs in all three sectors.

As a result, Joe is able to secure a new job that pays $750 per week working as a heavy equipment operator for a construction company within 30 minutes of Grande Prairie.

Frequent claimant

Alain lives in Moncton, New Brunswick. He is a long-haul trucker making $650 per week on average and has been laid off every winter for the past three years due to a lack of work.

Over the past four years, Alain has collected more than a total of 60 weeks of EI regular benefits. This year, he is receiving $358 in weekly EI regular benefits for seven weeks and is restricting his job search to long-haul trucking, although there are other transportation and delivery employment opportunities available in Moncton and the surrounding area.

Under the new regulations, as of the seventh week of his claim, Alain is required to expand his job search to include any work that he is qualified to perform and that pays at least 70 percent of his previous wage, or $455 per week.

Service Canada suggests that Alain register for the enhanced Job Alerts system to receive information on a broader range of jobs available in the transportation and delivery sector.

Service Canada also advises Alain of his obligations while collecting EI regular benefits, and he is told he may be required to demonstrate that he has conducted an adequate job search. If he cannot do so, he is advised that he may be denied further benefits. In that event, benefits could be reinstated once Alain demonstrates that he is meeting his obligations.

Alain was able to find a job working for $475 per week at a local courier company that has, in the past, had to rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to fill the position. Alain can work for this company through the winter months and return to his preferred occupation at his previous wage once long-haul trucking activity begins to pick up, if he chooses.

By accepting temporary employment, Alain will benefit by maintaining his attachment to the workforce, enhancing his skills and earning more than he would have received in EI benefits.

Example 3: How suitable employment works

John walked 15 minutes to his previous job, where he made $12 per hour as a full-time cook at a local Moncton restaurant. As a result of slower business, he is laid off and begins looking for work. After several weeks, he is offered a similar job at a 24-hour truck stop outside of town. Although he is offered the same wages and number of hours as his previous job, he will have to work evenings and nights. Because he has no car or access to public transportation at that time of day, his only option would be to take taxis or buy a vehicle.

While on the surface this job looks suitable for John, his personal circumstances and the added expense of getting to the job site means that he would actually be worse off taking the job than remaining on EI benefits. In this case, John could turn down the job offer and continue to receive EI regular benefits.

If John already owned or had regular access to a vehicle, this would likely be considered a suitable job for him, since he has not identified other personal circumstances, such as family responsibilities, that would make the job unsuitable. If he refused suitable employment, John would risk losing his EI benefits.

Eric is a mill worker in Dryden, Ontario, who has had difficulty maintaining permanent employment due to various slowdowns in the forestry industry over the last five years. In his most recent position, he drove an average of 70 minutes to work in the mill in Ear Falls, where he was making $1,400 per week before he was laid off.

As a frequent claimant, Eric is required to immediately look for work in similar occupations that offer a wage of at least $1,120 per week (80 percent of her previous earnings). Through his job search, he has identified another job in the paper mill in Kenora that offers $1,300 per week and more opportunity for stable employment. However, he is concerned about the commute to Kenora, which is 80 to 90 minutes by car with no public transit option.

At a claimant information session, it is confirmed that, generally, he is only required to look for work within a one-hour commute time from his home. Eric is told that while the commute is longer than one hour, it is comparable to the commute to his previous job. So according to the commuting requirement, this job offer is considered suitable employment for him. Eric is informed that if he refuses the job offer, he could risk losing his EI regular benefits.

After considering the salary, career opportunities and commute time, Eric accepts the job in Kenora.

Example 4: What to do if there is limited or no job opportunities

Samuel is a fish plant worker who makes $600 per week on average in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Each year, he works for several months before being laid off and collecting EI benefits.

As a frequent claimant, he is required to look for work that includes similar occupations that offers a wage of at least 80 percent of his previous wage. At seven weeks, he is required to further extend his search to include any work for which he is qualified that offers a wage of at least 70 percent of his previous job.

He signs up for Job Alerts, but because the fish plant is the largest employer in town and is closed for the season, there are no jobs available in his local community. He asks for information on surrounding communities, but the only available jobs are in St. John’s, which is not quite two hours away by car.

Given that no jobs are available in his community or the surrounding area, Samuel will continue to receive EI regular benefits, provided he continues to search for suitable employment. At a minimum, this would include searching local newspapers, enquiring with friends and former colleagues about potential opportunities and following up on any opportunities.

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