Cancer-stricken new mom wins appeal for EI sickness benefits

EI umpire finds original denial of benefits because woman wasn’t working when she fell ill wasn’t the intention of EI legislation
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 07/15/2011

An Ontario woman has won her battle for employment insurance (EI) sickness benefits for breast cancer treatment that she was originally denied because she was already on parental leave.

Natalya Rougas, a 39-year-old marketing co-ordinator, was on parental leave with an intended return-to-work date in January 2010 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since the treatment — chemotherapy and a mastectomy — would run after the end of her parental leave, Rougas applied for 15 additional weeks of EI sick leave benefits allowed for women on parental leave who fall seriously ill during their leave.

However, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) rejected Rougas’ claim, telling her she wasn’t eligible because she wasn’t otherwise working or available for work when she became ill. Rougas appealed to the EI board of referees but this was also rejected.

Rougas then took her claim to an EI umpire, in this case Justice R.J. Marin, who disagreed with HRSDC and the board of referees’ interpretation of the Employment Insurance Act. Marin found 2002 amendments to the act were intended to provide sickness benefits to women who contracted a serious illness at or near the end of their maternity and parental leave.

“If the (EI) Commission were to give a more liberal interpretation to the provisions of the act in relation to women who are able to establish a serious illness at the end of their maternal/parental leave, its approach would be consistent with the will of elected officials,” said Marin.

The sick leave benefits are worth $400 a week, or about $6,000 in total.

“The bureaucrats were not interpreting the law in the way in which Parliament had intended,” Rougas’ lawyer, Stephen Moreau, told the Toronto Star. ““It took somebody courageous like this umpire to see the merits of our position.”

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