Mr. Speaker, when a claimant qualifies for benefits, a benefit period of 52 weeks is established, which is the window of time within which all available benefits may be paid. This applies to all benefit types, including regular, sickness, maternity, parental, and compassionate care. The benefit period ensures that EI benefits are paid within a reasonable proximity relative to the earnings they are designed to replace.
The Employment Insurance Act, EI Act, does provide for some exceptions when specific circumstances arise. In particular, subject to eligibility requirements, 15 weeks of sickness benefits may be combined with 50 weeks of entitlement that maternity and parental provide, resulting in an extension of the 52-week benefit period to 67 weeks, including the two-week waiting period. A claimant may receive sickness benefits before or after receiving maternity or parental benefits; however, the EI Act requires that to obtain an extension to the benefit period beyond 52 weeks, maternity, parental and sickness benefits must start during the original 52-week benefit period. As such, in most cases where the claimant is expected to take the full 50-week combined maternity and parental benefits, sickness benefits must be received prior to maternity and parental benefits.
The provision for combining sickness benefits with maternity/parental benefits was originally included to address situations where women needed to leave work for health reasons prior to the birth of the child. This was to ensure that they did not lose entitlement to parental benefits provided for parental bonding with a newborn child in its first year.
Claimants who have used their full 52 week benefit period before receiving any sickness benefits, are treated like any other EI claimant, and are not entitled to an extension. No benefits are payable once the benefit period has ended and there are currently no provisions in the EI Act to extend a benefit period after it has ended, and their claim has terminated. This applies to claims for regular benefits and all types of special benefits. Once a claim has terminated, an individual would require recent labour force attachment to re-qualify before they could again claim benefits. In the case of sickness benefits, the individual would require an additional 600 hours.
Any proposed change to the administration of EI sickness benefits or the creation of any new program would require careful consideration as to the potential effects on other income supports and on employer-employee relationships.