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Coronavirus: Can you get CERB if you choose not to work?

Depressed woman at home.
Depressed woman at home. Getty Images
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The federal government has created the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) as a way to help Canadians who have lost income as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The benefit pays applicants $2,000 every four weeks for up to four months.

Just because you receive the payment, however, does not mean you qualify for it. The government has announced that it will automatically approve all applications and verify eligibility for the CERB later.

The CERB is designed for those who cannot earn income despite being available to work and interested in working. For an employee to qualify, work stoppage cannot be voluntary or driven by them in any way.

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READ MORE: The new COVID-19 benefit for workers has launched: Here’s how to apply

Can you tell your employer you don’t want to work? 

In order to qualify for the CERB, an employee must have lost income as a result of their employer’s decision to stop paying them, to lay them off or to drastically reduce their hours during the pandemic. Those who voluntarily choose not to go to work — when work is available to them — do not qualify.

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This means that if you tell your employer you do not want to come into work or you refuse a recall to work, you may not qualify for the CERB.

By telling your employer that you are unavailable to work or refusing to return to work, you may also be considered by your employer to have resigned from employment. Not only would you lose the ability to qualify for the CERB, but you would lose your job.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: CERB expanded to some who ran out of EI, part-timers and seasonal workers

Choosing not to work and still receiving the CERB

Workers continue to qualify for the CERB if they cannot work because they are sick due to COVID-19, are caring for someone who is sick due to COVID-19 or are caring for children who can no longer attend school or daycare.

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If you are in an immune-compromised situation and do not want to risk your health by going to work, speak to your doctor. If your doctor agrees that you cannot work for health reasons and provides you with a letter to that effect, stopping work will not be considered a resignation.

If you feel that your workplace puts you in danger by not properly allowing for social distancing, you are legally allowed to engage in a formal work refusal. This means that your employer may have to call in a government inspector, who will then determine whether the work is safe or not, and can order an employer to make changes to improve workplace safety.

Unless these conditions are met, employees risk putting themselves in a situation where they may not only lose the ability to qualify for the CERB, they can lose their job.


Learn more about temporary layoffs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and formal work refusals on the ST Lawyers blog, and seek legal advice if you’re unsure of your rights, obligations and entitlements.

Lior Samfiru is an employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, one of Canada’s leading law firms specializing in employment law and disability claims. Visit their website to learn more about your rights.

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