How to apply for CERB if you’re laid off because of COVID-19

What workers in Canada need to know about applying for benefits and looking for a new job
EI Fraud 20181024
Canada Service centre documents that display Employment Insurance options are pictured in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Federal officials say a fourth straight year of jumps in the volume and value of fraudulent employment insurance claims is a sign that efforts to root out wrongful payments is working. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

This story has been updated.

The latest job numbers from Statistics Canada for March confirmed what we all knew—COVID-19 has blown a hole in the centre of the Canadian economy, and forced massive layoffs across multiple industries. According to StatCan, employment in Canada fell by more than one million, the steepest monthly drop in Canadian history. The job losses in March will ultimately prove to been even worse, and have continued into April. So while the news, at least at this very moment, is dire, but there are some things you can do to keep money coming in and your spirits high.

Before doing anything, it’s important to understand whether you’ve been temporarily laid off or permanently laid off. If you’ve been temporarily laid off, your work has essentially been frozen in time. You won’t get paid by your company, but you are still entitled to any medical benefits and if your employer wants you back at work, they can call you in without any notice.

If you are permanently laid off, you will be entitled to severance, which varies by province—see more details on that below—and there’s no guarantee your employee brings you back when the social distancing ends.

READ MORE: Coronavirus layoff tracker

Apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit asap

Whether temporary or permanent, the minute your work ends, you should apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Those who have been laid off since March 15 can no longer apply for EI, though you can receive EI benefits once the CERB program ends. If you had been receiving EI over the last weeks, you will automatically be moved to CERB.

You can also apply if you’ve had to stop working and are no longer getting paid (but may still have a job) because you’ve fallen sick with COVID-19 or if you’re taking care of someone who has COVID-19. You had to have an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of your application and you have to have been, or expect to be without, employment income for at least 14 straight days within the four-week benefit period you’re initially applying for. Unlike EI, self-employed people can apply for this benefit as well.

Everyone who receives CERB will receive $500 per week, so if you were earning less than that on EI, you’ll now earn more. If you were earning more (the maximum you can receive is $573 a week), then you’ll get a little less. (These are taxable benefits, so you will have to pay some income tax on that money.)

The first Canada Emergency Response Benefit payment should appear in your bank account 10 days after you apply. (Jennifer Robson, a Carleton economist, created a great guide on who is eligible for what benefits.)

If you have been permanently laid off, you may be entitled to severance payments from your now ex-employer. According to Lara Speirs,  executive vice president and general counsel of legal and public affairs at human resources consulting firm Randstad Canada, what you’ll receive depends on what’s in your contract. Some contracts will state exactly what you’re entitled to, while others will not. In the case of the latter, you should expect to receive an amount based on common law, which varies based on age, experience, changes of getting a new job and more, says Speirs. At the bare minimum, you’re entitled to one week’s pay for every year you’ve worked, but many employers will pay something more than that. If you can afford it, it’s a good idea to talk to an employment lawyer, though it may be harder these days to push your former bosses to give you additional weeks or months of pay.

READ: Coronavirus plunges Canada’s economy into the abyss

Tap your network and start looking for work

It may seem like an odd time to look for work, but a lot of companies are hiring. A quick search on Randstad’s website for jobs in Toronto brings up 368 postings. There are a variety of positions too, including in human resources, IT, finance and accounting and administrative support.

Grocery stores, heath companies and the many businesses that support in-demand operations are also hiring, says Speirs. Take the time to update your resume and LinkedIn profile (here’s a good list of things to do on LinkedIn after a layoff) and then start applying. If you haven’t updated a resume in a while, there are a number of companies that can help you create a more appealing document .

Don’t be shy about calling up an old colleague to see if there are any openings at their workplace either—everyone knows what’s going on right now. And while you may not be able to go for a catch-up coffee, you and your friend can each fill up a mug with your drink of choice (maybe stick to the java during the day) and chat over FaceTime or Google Hangouts.

It’s important to continue engaging on social media, too, especially on LinkedIn, says Speirs. “Your online presence is more important than ever,” she says. That doesn’t mean you need to post long-winded updates about your life or opine on the world’s greatest management tips, but sharing the occasional article and responding to other people’s comments will keep you in front of your network.

Put your skills to use

If you find yourself with too much time on your hands at home, you may want to consider taking a course—a number of universities, including Ivy League ones, are offering free online courses (here’s a list of some)—or volunteering, says Speirs. While you likely can’t volunteer in person right now, there may be ways to help out either virtually or from home. Maybe a non-profit organization you care about needs marketing help or they’re looking for a finance expert to see what they can do to stay afloat. Find ways to put your skills to use.

Getting laid off is not easy, even if half the people you know are also suddenly out of work. The key is to stay busy, stay connected, make use of government support and keep in mind that, at some point, this will pass and the work will come.