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Tribunal reverses course: Woman who felt forced to retire for financial reasons over vaccine refusal loses EI benefits

by HR Law Canada

A woman who felt she had no choice but to retire from her job, citing financial pressure after being suspended for failing to comply with her employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, is not entitled to collect Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

“The law is well established that leaving one’s employment to improve their financial situation may well constitute good cause, but it does not constitute just cause,” the Social Security Tribunal of Canada said in the ruling.

“There is no doubt that she was left in a precarious financial position once her employer placed her on a leave of absence,” it said. “She risked losing her home. She is the sole provider for several dependents with varying impairments. She was under enormous strain and financial pressure, so felt forced to retire to access her pension.”

Ruling overturned

The Tribunal overturned a previous General Division decision that awarded EI benefits to H.C., the claimant, for EI after she voluntarily left her employment over the vaccination issue.

The Canada Employment Insurance Commission (Commission) filed an appeal against the General Division’s ruling, which initially found that H.C. had just cause for voluntarily leaving her job on May 12, 2022, allowing her to be qualified for EI benefits.

The crux of the Commission’s appeal was the assertion that financial reasons, such as H.C.’s need to access her pension to support her family, do not constitute just cause under the Employment Insurance Act.

Sympathy with worker’s predicament

The General Division had earlier sympathized with H.C.’s predicament, noting she faced a “impossible situation” between adhering to her religious beliefs and sustaining her financially dependent family, including several with physical and mental disabilities.

H.C. had also sought an exemption from the vaccination policy and explored other employment opportunities before deciding to retire.

However, the Tribunal emphasized that the law maintains a clear distinction between leaving a job for good cause and leaving for just cause.

It highlighted, “Leaving one’s employment for financial reasons is not just cause under the Employment Insurance Act,” underscoring a consistent interpretation in cases such as Campeau and Borden cited by federal courts.

The ruling reiterated that EI is designed to support individuals who have lost their jobs involuntarily, not those who choose to leave their employment, irrespective of the sincerity or severity of their reasons. The Tribunal concluded that the General Division had erred legally in deeming H.C.’s voluntary departure as having just cause.

As a consequence of the Tribunal’s findings, H.C. has been disqualified from receiving EI benefits following her voluntary exit from employment on May 12, 2022.

For more information, see Canada Employment Insurance Commission v HC, 2023 SST 1379 (CanLII).

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