“I disclosed my MS diagnosis to my employer almost immediately. I wanted them to know there was a genuine reason why things had been difficult and explain the many appointments, most of which were impossible to schedule outside of work hours.”
Lance was diagnosed with MS at 60 – later in life than many Canadians living with the disease. But while his diagnosis was unconventional, he encountered something far too common. While his employer worked to accommodate him in the workplace, he was let down by the Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefit, the very system meant to provide financial support during times of illness.
The EI sickness benefit is designed to provide a temporary income replacement for Canadians who are unable to work due to injury or medical reasons. The benefit provides 55 per cent of your average weekly earnings for up to 15 weeks to ease the financial burden of a leave from work.
“Unfortunately, the EI sickness benefit is a program that lacks flexibility. My MS is episodic and my symptoms don’t often last more than a week or two at a time. To be eligible for EI sickness, your weekly earnings must be reduced by 40 per cent due to illness. I was required to use up my sickness and vacation benefits from work before applying. Without any flexibility to accommodate episodic disabilities like MS, it is impossible to plan for any contingencies.”
For over a decade, Lance has worked as a call center agent with the Government of Canada in Calgary. He experienced a range of symptoms, but the most significant impact to his work came from fatigue and a period of optic neuritis, which lasted six months. At this point, he was finally able to qualify for EI sickness benefits. After regaining his sight, he decided to return to work with reduced hours, despite his ongoing fatigue, and as a result, the EI sickness benefit was immediately cut off even though his income was still reduced.
“Now I’m experiencing another relapse, taking me out of work for 18 months this time. I’ve been advised that the damage to the optic nerve is permanent and I will never recover my full vision. I am currently scheduled for four eye surgeries to correct whatever they can. I wish people would understand that some days, I can walk from across the parking lot and other days, I absolutely need that accessible parking permit hanging from my mirror. I look forward to the day where social programs are more accommodating for people like me who live with an episodic disability.”
– Lance, diagnosed in 2016
Currently the EI sickness benefit is capped at 15 weeks, a length that hasn’t changed since the program’s creation in the 1970s. The #TakeActionForMS campaign calls on the federal government to extend the EI sickness benefit up to at least 26 weeks. #TakeActionForMS and email your Member of Parliament today, click the button below.