Paid time off from work is a benefit enjoyed by employees in Canada, legislated by employment standards in all jurisdictions. This legislation allows for both vacation time and vacation pay. The purpose of vacation time is to provide each employee a minimum of two weeks’ time off work, whereas vacation pay ensures continuity of remuneration throughout the vacation period.
Vacation time is earned over a 12-month period, commonly referred to as the vacation entitlement year. This vacation entitlement year can be the calendar year, a company-established year, or the employee’s anniversary (seniority) date. Depending on the jurisdiction, vacation time must be taken within 4 to 12 months of it being earned. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the legislated vacation time is taken, and as such, with adequate notice, the employer has the right to schedule vacation time for employees. In addition, many jurisdictions allow for the fractioning of vacation time. Time may be taken as a single two-week period, two one-week periods, or broken down into one-day increments in some jurisdictions, such as Ontario, with written consent from both the employee and employer. Generally, employees cannot forego their right to the minimum legislated vacation time, nor can they ask to be paid in lieu of vacation time.
Vacation pay, on the other hand, accrues as a percentage of vacationable earnings in the vacation entitlement year. These vacationable earnings vary by jurisdiction. Rather than being paid regular wages, an employee will receive vacation pay when taking vacation time. At the end of the year, an employee who has taken their full vacation time entitlement should have exhausted their vacation pay accrual. However, since some jurisdictions include additional earnings paid throughout the entitlement year as vacationable earnings (for example, overtime pay and a work related bonus), an employee may have accrued more vacation pay than they have been paid for at their regular rate of pay. This type of situation reinforces the need for a reconciliation of vacation pay owed versus vacation actually paid. Any and all outstanding balances must be paid to the employees affected within the legislated timeframe of the jurisdiction in question.
Such reconciliation should also be performed upon termination of an employee. Any unused vacation pay accrued must be paid to the terminated employee. An employer may allow employees to take vacation time prior to it being earned. Such a policy creates the possibility of vacation overpayment, particularly in the event of an employee terminating employment with the company after having taken more vacation time than has been earned. Although some jurisdictions allow for deductions from an employee’s pay for vacation overpayments, including vacation advances, it is considered a good standard of practice to get the employee’s authorization for such deductions in writing.