EI Sickness Benefits

Financial impact of cancer

When Canadians face cancer, their struggle is not just medical but also financial. In addition to a decrease in income, they also face a rise in expenses such as medications, the cost of medical travel, parking and home care costs. The stress of this financial burden affects their emotional well-being and, therefore, their psychosocial needs.

As Canadians live longer, with longer careers, more people are likely to develop an illness while in the workforce. With half of Canadians expected to develop cancer in their lifetime and more than one million Canadians living with and beyond cancer, there is a critical need to provide additional support for people with cancer and their families.

Graph showing average treatment and physical recovery times by cancer type

15 weeks is not enough

The Employment Insurance sickness benefit currently provides 15 weeks of coverage, which is not enough to cover the length of treatment for many people with cancer. A report by BC Cancer notes that the average length of treatment and recovery for people with breast cancer is between 26 and 36 weeks and for colon cancer it is 37 weeks. These are two of the most common types of cancer in Canada.

It is time to alleviate this burden on people who are living with a disease as serious as cancer. We are calling on the federal government to follow through on its commitment to extend the sickness benefit to at least 26 weeks. This would bring the length of the benefit in line with the compassionate care benefits, which was extended from 6 weeks to 26 weeks in 2016.

An extension to the EI sickness benefit will ensure that Canadians who are facing a life-threatening disease such as cancer will receive more time off to heal and recover from their treatment. 

Roundtable report

Read the 2019 Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit Policy report, which provides an overview of what experts feel is needed to improve the benefit for Canadians who rely on it when they become seriously ill or injured

Our position

Canadians who are facing a life-threatening disease such as cancer need to take time off work to receive treatment and to heal. When Canadians face cancer, their struggle is not just physical, it also includes impacts on mental health and financial stress. The Canadian Cancer Society believes that people who are facing a life-threating illness such as cancer require financial support and job protected leave when they take time off work to receive and recover from treatment. Canadians should not have to choose between receiving cancer treatment and working. 

The extension of the Employment Insurance sickness benefit from 15 to 26 weeks came into effect December 18, 2022.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that provincial and territorial governments:  

  • extend the length of sickness leave job protection to at least 26 weeks to align with Employment Insurance sickness benefit   
  • change eligibility criteria by decreasing the threshold of the number of hours worked   
  • increase flexibility for workers by allowing them to claim benefits in smaller units (on an hourly or per day basis) 
  • authorize expanded access to leave by regulation  
  • reduce the administrative burden by adopting a claimant-centred client approach in working with claims and streamlining the requirements, application process and aligning with other federal benefits such as Canada Pension Plan
  • increase employer access to supports and accommodations for workers