Family life

What to do if you're laid off because of the coronavirus

What workers in Canada need to know about applying for benefits and looking for a new job.

First off all, we’re sorry to hear that, but you’re in good company. Nearly one million Canadians applied for employment insurance (EI) benefits between March 16 and March 22 and you can be sure that the COVID-19 crisis will have caused another massive spike in applications this week. Just look at what’s happened since Monday: WestJet announced that 6,900 people were leaving the company, while Leon’s Furniture let go of 3,900 staffers. A survey from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, also released this week, found that one-third of small business owners may soon have to shut their doors. Yes, 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 (now could be a good time to finally get that stress-reducing massage) 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 employer brings you back when the social distancing ends.

Apply for benefits, asap

Whether temporary or permanent, the minute your work ends, you should apply for EI benefits. Prior to this crisis you had to wait seven days to apply and you needed a record of employment from your workplace, but no longer—as part of its coronavirus actions, the Canadian government waived the waiting period and it’s now letting you supply the employment record later. Read through the EI website to fully understand what you’re entitled to, but, basically, you can collect 55 per cent of your average insurable earnings up to a maximum of $573 a week.

There are also plenty of people who may be out of work who aren’t eligible for EI, like self-employed folks, gig-economy workers or employees who don’t meet the minimum number of hours to qualify for EI. Fortunately, the government has something for you, too. Starting on April 6, Canadians who can’t receive EI and those who can receive it, but may be off work and not earning money because they’re either caring for someone who has contracted COVID-19, who are sick themselves or they can’t work with their children around, can receive $2000 a month until mid-October. (You will have to pay some income tax on that come tax time.)

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 Spiers, a legal expert with 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 Spiers. At the bare minimum, you’re entitled to one week’s pay for every month 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.

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 Spiers. 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 Spiers. “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 Spiers. 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.