Less than sunny vacation myths about pay and time off

It is in your best interest to read your employer’s written policies regarding vacation time. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
It is in your best interest to read your employer’s written policies regarding vacation time. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Before planning your next vacation, you might want to acquaint yourself with vacation/time-off rules as they’re stipulated in employment standards law. The laws are more involved than you probably realize and knowing what you can expect from your employer before planning your next sojourn might make the planning stages much easier.

Vacation time and vacation pay aren’t always on the same page in some provinces. In Ontario, for instance, if you have worked for a company for 12 months, you’re entitled to two weeks of vacation. But here’s the rub: you’re not entitled to any vacation time in your first year. You can get 4 percent of your gross earnings in every vacation year you’re entitled to – even during the first year.

Some fun in the sun in February? Maybe not

Did you know your employer can choose when you take your holiday? Your boss can actually designate vacation times within reason. They can’t tell you to take individual days throughout the year, for example. If you’re hoarding your vacation days to get a long time off in one shot, your employer can make you take those days upon accrual, although some do allow you to rack up vacation time only to realize they can’t afford to provide the days. That’s why most employers have clear rules regarding banked vacation days.

The “use it or lose it” myth

Your employer can pay you for vacation days not taken but they can’t say if you don’t take those days you lose them. You’re always entitled to minimum vacation days as set out in the Employment Standards Act (ESA). The minimum is two weeks in Ontario and every other province other than Saskatchewan where it is three weeks. Incidentally, that number puts Canada in second-to-last place among 62 countries with the lowest place held by our neighbour to the south.

Some possible eye-openers:

  • Your vacation should be given to you in one-week time slots unless your employer gets you to agree otherwise in writing.
  • Your entitlement to vacation days in not mandatorily increased with your seniority.
  • If you’re on vacation during a statutory holiday, that day doesn’t count as a vacation day.
  • If you’re on a leave of absence, the time you’re away will count as time employed when it comes to adding up vacation days.

It may be in your best interest to read your employer’s written policies regarding vacation time. They do have to adhere to the ESA, but it’s best to be informed about their policies as they apply to the act. Both you and your employer should be aware of your respective rights and understand how they impact vacation time. You don’t want any surprises after booking that all-inclusive!

Change is in the air

The government of Ontario has passed legislation that will hike the minimum paid vacation from two to three weeks if you’ve been in the same job for five years or more. That change is expected to take place in June 2018. Many countries in Europe have laws that make employers give their employees upwards of three weeks minimum paid vacation.
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