Alberta Cancer Foundation

Accessing Sickness Benefits While Facing Cancer

Illustration by Jennifer Madole.

When confronted with a cancer diagnosis, your day-to-day life is upended. Outside of focusing on getting better, finances often come into question as cancer patients become unable to work. Service Canada has an employment insurance (EI) sickness benefits program for those facing an unexpected illness, but paperwork can become complicated amid the chaos. Sarah Hollingsworth is a resource social worker in the department of psychosocial oncology at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and here she explains how to access EI benefits.

How does someone qualify for Government of Canada EI benefits?

A person would qualify for EI sickness benefits if they have put in 600 insurable hours of work within the last 52 weeks. And then, of course, you would need a medical certificate proving that you have a sickness that would make you unable to work.

How long can people access it, and how much do they receive?

For EI sickness benefits, you only get 15 weeks, and you receive 55 per cent of your best week on salary. For a lot of people, their illness is not resolved within those 15 weeks [and] after that time they’re unable to access anything else unless they qualify for long-term disability benefits. You can’t qualify for any long-term disability benefits through Service Canada unless you have an illness that is severe and prolonged enough that it would last more than a year. However, if someone has advanced cancer or faces complications, they can first apply for EI sickness benefits and then in the meantime apply for long-term disability if the illness is expected to last longer than a year. Long-term disability takes more time to process, so this way, patients are covered as they move in-between benefits.

What does the process of applying entail and what documentation do people need?

They need their social insurance number, their mother’s maiden name, and they might need to include a pay stub if they have a variance in their salary. At a later date, they will also need a medical certificate completed by their doctor and then a record of employment from an employer. From there, you complete the application online, which will take 45 minutes to an hour if you’re doing it for the first time.

What benefits can family members of patients access?

There are compassionate care benefits and caregiver benefits. The family caregiver benefit is for [caring for] an adult who is critically ill. It is also for 15 weeks. The compassionate care benefit lasts for 26 weeks and applies to family or caregivers of a person of any age who requires end-of-life care. Family members can share that time, but they need to apply separately.

Learn more about employment insurance at

Additional Financial Support

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Patient Financial Assistance Program is another way Albertans can receive financial support while undergoing active cancer treatment. Read more here or visit