Thanksgiving: What is the law on holiday pay?

A wild turkey standing majestically on green grass: symbol of the Thanksgiving holiday.
A wild turkey is symbol of the Thanksgiving holiday. Stock photo by Getty Images.

Gobble Gobble! It’s time to devour some turkey and feel the glory of another autumn. But if you’re an employee, public holidays such as Thanksgiving also pose an important question: how much do I get paid?

Every province and territory has a piece of legislation on employment standards, containing provisions on holidays and holiday pay.

The nine holidays recognized across provinces include:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Family Day
  • Good Friday
  • Victoria Day
  • Canada Day
  • Labour Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day

Some employers may recognize Remembrance Day and Easter Sunday or Monday as holidays too, but these are not considered public holidays for holiday pay purposes.

According to provincial employment law, employees that qualify can take these public holidays off and be paid for them. Their alternative is to agree — in writing — to work on holidays.

If they agree to work, they must be paid holiday pay plus premium pay for hours worked, OR their regular pay for the hours worked plus a day off (substitute holiday) with vacation pay.

Premium pay is 1.5 times regular pay. So, if you earn $20 an hour regularly, your hourly premium pay is $30 ($20 multiplied by 1.5).

A substitute holiday is another working day off to replace a public holiday. It should normally be taken within three months of the public holiday, unless there is an agreement in writing. If your employment ends for whatever reason before you can take your substitute holiday, your employer must pay you for it as planned.

Some employees do not get to take public holidays off. They belong to special industries. Special rules govern these employees such as taxi drivers. To check if holiday pay applies to you, check the website of your ministry of labour and search for the keyword term: “holiday pay.”

Generally speaking, the amount of holiday pay a qualified employee is entitled to equals all of his or her regular wages during the preceding four weeks, before the week of the holiday, plus all the vacation pay payable for the same period, divided by 20.

For example: John is a qualified employee who earned $3,000 in the last four weeks before Thanksgiving; he has not taken a vacation this year yet so he didn’t receive any vacation pay in the past four weeks; John’s holiday pay for Thanksgiving is $3,000 divided by 20, which equals $150.00.

You may consult your provincial or territorial government’s website to find out more about holiday pay in your jurisdiction.

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