Who should visit a WorkBC Centre?

The Employment Program of British Columbia (EPBC) is available to all unemployed British Columbians who are seeking employment and are legally eligible to work in B.C. The program offers a range of services that support job seekers to find and maintain employment and to improve employment readiness.  [en Français]

Any B.C. job seeker or employer can access the self-serve resource area of WorkBC Employment Services Centres. There are no program eligibility criteria or formal screening requirements for people to use the resource area. 

In order to access any other EPBC services, you must:

  • meet basic eligibility criteria for the program – be unemployed and legally eligible to work in B.C., OR
  • qualify as an allowable exception to program eligibility requirements and, for most services, be assessed as needing the service to successfully attach to the labour market or community. Some services have additional eligibility criteria.
Find Out if You Are Eligible

Basic Eligibility

In this section, you will learn how to become eligible for the Employment Program of B.C. You will find:

  • a definition that will help you decide if you meet the program criteria to be considered “unemployed”
  • a definition that will help you decide if you meet WorkBC Employment Services criteria to be considered “precariously employed” 
  • exceptions that are sometimes allowed for those who do not meet the program definition of “unemployed”
  • three legal requirements you must meet to work in B.C.
  • Individuals with Social Insurance Numbers (SINs) that begin with a 9
  • Part-time workers
  • Full-time students
  • Youth
  • Active EI claimants receiving special Employment Insurance benefits
  • Client inclusion groups
  • Individuals with restrictions regarding where they can access services
  • Individuals who are imprisoned

What Does “Unemployed” Mean?

“Unemployed” means you are not a full-time student as defined by the program, and you:

  • are not working
  • are working an average of fewer than twenty (20) hours per week, AND
    • are actively seeking full-time employment
    • are unable to work full-time because of a disability and are seeking to work more hours;
  • are in receipt of a notice of imminent layoff
  • must leave your current occupation due to a medical reason
  • are at significant risk of losing your employment because of a disability
  • you must be legally eligible to work in BC; please visit your local ESC to find out more information.

Are There Any Exceptions?

Some exceptions are allowed for those who do not meet the program definition of “unemployed.”  If you have a disability, you may be eligible to have your case managed under the EPBC.

Specific Eligibility

Individuals with 900 Series Social Insurance Numbers (SINs)

A SIN beginning with the number “9” indicates that the SIN holder is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and does not have the right to work in Canada without special permission.

If you are not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident (i.e. you hold a 900-series SIN), you may access WorkBC Employment Services Centre self-serve resource areas. You may also be eligible for EPBC services if you are:

  • a Convention refugee or protected person by the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) who is awaiting your official documents (i.e. certification, regular SIN, permanent resident status)
  • a person who had been working in Canada on a temporary work permit, who has now been granted permanent resident status but has not yet recieved a permanent SIN
  • a person granted permission to live and/or work in Canada by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and who has a work permit (IMM 1442) that does not specify an employer or other restriction that limits your ability to seek and accept work in Canada

Part-time workers

If you work an average of fewer than 20 hours per week, you meet the program definition of “unemployed” and are eligible for EPBC services.

Full-time students

You are defined as a full-time student, for the purposes of the program, when:
  • you are registered full-time at a public or post-secondary educational institution during the current or previous academic year
  • you have completed a school term and intend to return to school in the upcoming academic year and have not made the transition from school to work.
If you are a full-time secondary or post-secondary student, you are considered outside the labour force. You are therefore not considered to be unemployed unless you are eligible for an allowable exception. Students can access WorkBC Employment Services Centre self-serve resource areas


If you are aged 16 to 30 and are not a student, you are considered a “youth” for the purposes of the program. As explained above, youth under the age of 16 do not meet the legal school-leaving age in B.C. You are therefore not considered to be unemployed.

You can access services when your participation meets federal and provincial laws and the EPBC service provider has confirmed that you are legally eligible to work in British Columbia.

Active EI Claimants Receiving Special Employment Insurance Benefits

If you are receiving temporary EI special benefits for a specific purpose (maternity, parental, sickness), you are not considered unemployed for the purposes of the program. In order to access EPBC services, you must change your EI claim to a regular claim.

Specialized Populations

If you have unique needs that require alternative arrangements for you to access employment services successfully, you are considered part of a specialized population for the purposes of the program.

Specialized populations include:

  • Aboriginal people
  • Francophones
  • new immigrants
  • people with disabilities
  • those living in rural and remote areas
  • people who have multiple barriers to employment
  • survivors of violence or abuse
  • youth

You may be associated with a specialized population and have no barriers to your ability to get work but simply need job-search or other supports. For others, this may not be the case; they may require specialized assessments and services designed specifically to meet their needs.

Individuals with Restrictions or Considerations Regarding Where They Can Access Services

You may have restrictions or safety-related considerations regarding where you can access services. These may include court-ordered restrictions related to geographic areas you must avoid (e.g. “Red Zone” areas) or restrictions for safety reasons for yourself or others (e.g. protecting your personal safety, not being permitted to be near children, restraining orders).

If you have unique needs that affect where you can comfortably, safely and legally access services, EPBC service providers will make services available to you through alternative means.

Individuals Who Are Incarcerated

Outreach services may be available if you are:

  • incarcerated and near release; and
  • you will require employment services to find a job quickly.

Where a contracted EPBC service provider has a correctional facility in the area, outreach services will be provided under the terms of the EPBC contract.

Categories of Clients
Unemployed British Columbians with various employment-related needs, skills, education, experience and circumstances are eligible to receive EPBC services. EPBC categorizes individuals into three groups to ensure accountability to funders and to determine eligibility for services where there are specific funder-eligibility requirements.

For the purposes of the program, these categories of individuals are:

  • Employment Insurance (EI) clients
  • British Columbia Employment and Assistance (BCEA) clients
  • General clients (those who are neither EI nor BCEA)

Employment Insurance (EI) Clients

You are considered an “Employment Insurance client” or “EI client” if you are unemployed and, when requesting services of the program, are either an active EI claimant or a recent EI claimant (also known as an EI Reachback client).

Active EI claimant:

You are considered an active EI claimant if you have established a claim for regular EI benefits. You must be available for and seeking work on a full-time basis as a condition of receiving EI. Service Canada will advise you of employment services available to support you in your job search, but it is up to you to undertake a job search that meets the requirements for ongoing EI eligibility. You may self-refer to the EPBC if you choose to access program services.

Former EI claimant / Reachback clients:

You are considered a former EI claimant (Reachback client) if you established an EI claim within the past few years but are not currently receiving EI benefits and you do not have any job search obligations. As with active EI claimants, you may self-refer to the EPBC to access program services.

If you are unemployed, you must apply for EI to determine if you are eligible for EI benefits. This will determine if you can be considered for services that require EI eligibility. If you are not eligible for EI, you will be eligible for alternative services.

See the Service Canada website for more information on EI eligibility. The ministry and its contracted service providers are not authorized to provide advice or guidance related to EI policies or legislation. EPBC service providers, however, are expected to be knowledgeable regarding basic EI eligibility and application processes and in supporting you, as needed, in accessing this type of information.

The ministry is responsible for three key processes related to EI claimants’ participation in EPBC services:

  • The ministry verifies your EI client status for specific services requiring EI eligibility.
  • The ministry authorizes EI Section 25 referrals, in which an active EI claimant participates full-time in specific EPBC services. In doing so, the ministry temporarily waives the claimant’s obligation to job search and allows them to continue to collect EI while participating in the EPBC service.
  • The ministry can, in very rare and exceptional circumstances, authorize individuals to quit their jobs to participate in EPBC services.

BC Employment and Assistance (BCEA) Clients

The BC Employment and Assistance (BCEA) program assists British Columbians by helping people move from income assistance to sustainable employment, and by providing income assistance to those who are unable to fully participate in the workforce.

BCEA clients, or recipients of British Columbia Employment and Assistance, may be formally referred to the program by the ministry or may self-refer to the program.

You should consider accessing self-serve services if:

  • you are receiving BCEA services and
  • you are not referred to the EPBC and
  • you are employment obligated or you have employment as a goal and
  • you are, in the opinion of the ministry, suitable for and could benefit from EPBC services

Employment Plans with the Ministry

You may be required to enter into and comply with an employment plan with the ministry as a condition of your eligibility for BCEA assistance. The employment plan is a legal document outlining the activities, expectations and timeframe you are required to follow in becoming employed or more employable.

If you are a BCEA employment-obligated client, EPBC service providers are required to work with you to support you in your job search and to develop action plans that are aligned with your employment plan.

It is your responsibility, not the EPBC service provider’s, to ensure that you meet the requirements and obligations of your employment plan with the ministry.

You are also responsible for meeting all requirements for ongoing BCEA eligibility. Discuss any questions or concerns related to BCEA with ministry staff. The ministry is solely responsible for determining eligibility, exemptions or compliance with BCEA requirements and for imposing sanctions.

EPBC service providers are expected to be knowledgeable regarding basic BCEA eligibility and application processes and to be able to support individuals, as needed, in accessing this type of information.

EPBC service providers do not provide individuals with advice, guidance or interpretation related to BCEA legislation, policies or requirements. If you are receiving BCEA services, you should discuss such matters with ministry staff.

Types of BCEA Clients Who May Access EPBC Services

Referred employment-obligated BCEA clients

Some employment-obligated BCEA clients are formally referred to the EPBC.

This applies to BCEA clients whose employment plans require that they participate in the EPBC. They will be referred for, or advised to schedule, a formal needs assessment (FNA) with the EPBC service provider in their catchment area within 10 days of the referral to determine the need for case management.

Self-referred employment-obligated BCEA clients

BCEA individuals who are not formally referred to the EPBC but who have employment obligations are assigned to supervised independent work search.

If you are an employment-obligated BCEA client, you have a primary obligation to find employment as quickly as possible and to sustain it in order to eliminate or reduce your dependence on income assistance.

Ministry staff will encourage you to access EPBC self-serve services. You can also be accepted for case management if EPBC service providers determine that you need it. In this situation, you will require a referral from the ministry and a new employment plan with the ministry that specifies your obligation to participate in EPBC services.

Non-employment-obligated clients

If you are employable, the ministry expects you to search for, accept and continue in employment. However, if you meet certain criteria detailed in the Employment and Assistance Act and the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act, you may be temporarily exempt from this requirement. If so, you are considered to have no employment obligations.

Ministry staff may encourage you to access EPBC self-serve services. You can also be accepted for case management if an EPBC service provider determines that you need it. You do not require a referral from the ministry or an employment plan.


Enquirers are BCEA applicants who are required to search for work prior to their application for BCEA being considered. This requirement is intended to emphasize that income assistance is a program of last resort intended to be provided on a temporary basis to individuals only until they are able to support themselves. The work search ensures that applicants make every effort to find employment and avoid relying on income assistance.

If you are an enquirer, the ministry will encourage you to access EPBC self-serve services to support your job search and maintain your independence and self-sufficiency.

General Clients

A “general client” is an unemployed individual who is neither an “EI client” nor a “BCEA client.”

If you are a general client, you can access most EPBC services including case management, if needed.  But you are not eligible for some EPBC services. You may, however, be eligible for alternative employment programming. If so, the EPBC can support you in accessing alternative employment programming and funding as well as other needed community services.

As a general client, you will access EPBC services by:

  • self-referral
  • the encouragement of another community or government organization
  • the encouragement of an employer, if you have been layed off or terminated

General clients with disabilities

General clients with disabilities can access EPBC services as would other program clients with disabilities, except where services are restricted specifically to EI clients or BCEA clients.

All case-managed clients with disabilities who request employment-related disability program services or supports, or who are assessed as potentially needing them, must participate in a disability-related needs assessment (DRENA). The DRENA will confirm your employment-related disability needs and your eligibility for program services and supports that are targeted to meet these needs.