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February 15 is Family Day! See which provinces have a day off with pay

familydayAlberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan have recognized Family Day as a public (statutory) holiday and allow employees to get the day off with pay (if eligible). All of the above mentioned provinces (excluding British Columbia) celebrate Family Day on the third Monday in February each year. In 2016, Monday, February 15 has been deemed Family Day. British Columbia celebrated Family Day on February 8.

Although Family Day is celebrated by six provinces on the same day (except for BC), an employee’s entitlements must be governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which they work. Employment standards legislation and regulations establish minimum standards of employment for most employers and employees working in a specific jurisdiction. However, employers and employees (or their agents, such as unions) may agree to more favourable (and different) terms in their employment agreement or collective bargaining agreement.

To be eligible for a public holiday, employees ordinarily must meet certain requirements, such as working a minimum number of hours or days in a given period prior to the holiday. The rules governing the treatment of public holidays differ between provinces. Below is a brief overview of legal requirements and issues surrounding Family Day in Alberta, Manitoba (known as Louis Riel Day), Nova Scotia (known as Heritage Day), Ontario, Prince Edward Island (known as Islander Day), and Saskatchewan. Note: This blog post is just a reminder. There are exemptions, special rules, greater benefits and additional requirements found in the law and regulations. More information on the issue of greater benefit and legal requirements can be found on HRinfodesk in the Library section under each jurisdiction (login required).

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Alberta

Family Day was created amid some controversy when it was first introduced in 1989. In response, Premier Getty stated “I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

In Alberta, employees are entitled to get a day off with regular pay, if eligible.

To be eligible for general holiday pay, employees:

  • must have worked 30 days for their employer in the preceding 12 months;
  • must work their scheduled shift before and after the holiday (unless employer consent is given); and
  • must work on the general holiday if requested.

If an employee is required to work on the holiday, the employee must be paid regular pay plus a premium rate of pay (premium pay is 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay) for the hours worked on the holiday or regular wages, and get a substituted day off with pay at a later date.

Under Alberta’s employment standards legislation, and according to the Ministry of Labour, the following rules apply:

  • If an employee usually works Mondays and they are given Family Day off, then they are entitled to their regular daily wage.
  • If an employee usually works Mondays and works Family Day, then they are entitled to their regular daily wage plus time-and-a-half for all hours worked. Otherwise, they are entitled to their regular wage for each hour worked on the holiday, in addition to another regular work day off with pay.
  • If an employee usually has Mondays off but they work on Family Day, then they are entitled to pay at a rate of time-and-a-half of their regular wage for all hours worked.
  • If an employee usually has Mondays off and they do not work on Family Day, then they are not entitled to general holiday pay and are not entitled to an extra day off. However, an employee may receive general holiday pay or an extra day off if it is a part of their employment contract or a part of a union agreement. Employees should check with their employer.

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Manitoba

The holiday was named by school children. A competition was held to name the holiday, and students decided to name it after Louis Riel Day!

Riel was an advocate and leader of the Métis people.

In Manitoba, all employees receive general holiday pay unless:

  • They are scheduled to work on a general holiday, but are absent without the employer’s permission.
  • They are absent without the employer’s permission from their last scheduled workday before the holiday, or their first scheduled workday after the holiday.

An employee does not have to work a certain length of time before they qualify for general holiday pay.

According to the Employment Standards Branch of the Department of Labour and Immigration, general holiday pay can be calculated in two ways:

  1. Employees who consistently work the same number of hours get one regular work day’s pay as general holiday pay.
  2. For employees whose hours of work or wages vary, general holiday pay is calculated at 5% of the gross wages (not including overtime) in the 4 week period immediately before the holiday.

Note: In the construction industry, employees are entitled to general holiday pay, however, it is calculated as a percentage of their regular wages. It is often paid on every cheque instead of on the general holiday.

Employees who work on a general holiday are usually entitled to 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for the hours worked. In addition, they also receive their general holiday pay.

The employer, with the written agreement of the majority of the employees or by their collective (union) agreement, can choose to substitute a different day in the place of a general holiday. The substituted day must be within 12 months of the general holiday.

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Nova Scotia

Although the holiday is named Heritage Day, each year it honours a different person or event of significance in Nova Scotia. This year the holiday honours Joseph Howe. Howe is known for his major influence on Nova Scotian politics, literature, and freedom of the press.

In Nova Scotia, to have a day off, with pay, an employee must:

  • be entitled to receive pay for at least 15 of the 30 calendar days before the holiday; and
  • have worked on their last scheduled shift or day before the holiday and on the first scheduled shift or day after the holiday.

If an employee qualifies for the holiday and is given the day off, the employer must pay a regular day’s pay for that holiday. If the employee’s hours of work change from day to day, or if wages change from pay to pay, the employer should average hours or wages over 30 days to calculate what to pay the employee for the holiday.

Note: If the holiday falls on an employee’s regular day off, the employee is entitled to another day off with pay.

An employee who works on a holiday and who qualifies to be paid holiday pay is entitled to receive both of the following:

  • the amount the employee would have normally received for that day; and
  • one and a half times the employee’s regular rate of wages for the number of hours worked on that holiday.

Note: Family Day is also a designated retail closing day in Nova Scotia under the Retail Business Designated Day Closing Act and the Retail Business Uniform Closing Day Act.

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Ontario

The enactment of Family Day did not go without controversy in Ontario. Many employers and business groups were concerned with the increased labour costs and lower productivity.

In Ontario, there was a lot of discussion and confusing information about an employer’s obligation to provide Family Day in February if they already provide a greater benefit, that is, they already provide more than nine paid public holidays a year.

The Ontario’s Ministry of Labour clarified the above noted issue by releasing guidelines which consisted of the following: Ontarians who are covered by the ESA holiday provisions are entitled to a minimum of nine public holidays. If an employer provides 10 or more paid holidays, an employee may not automatically be entitled to Family Day. Employees should speak to their employer or union official to determine whether they will have Family Day off.

Most employees will be eligible to take off Family Day (with possible exemptions, further discussed below). Generally if a public holiday falls on a day that would ordinarily be a working day, and the employee is not on vacation, they are entitled to the day off work and to be paid public holiday pay. However, the employee would not be entitled if they failed, without reasonable cause, to work all of their last regularly scheduled day of work before Family Day or all or their first regularly scheduled day of work after Family Day.

It does not matter how recently an employee was hired, or how many days they worked before the public holiday (although it can affect the amount of their public holiday pay). Qualified employees can be full-time, part-time, permanent, on a limited-term contract, or a student.

There are three categories of employees who may not have the right to the day off. These include:

  • Employees who are not covered by Ontario’s ESA (i.e., employees who work in federally regulated workplaces such as banks, telecommunications companies, railways and airlines, or who are federal civil servants).
  • Employees who are covered by the ESA, but fall within a special rule or exemption involving the ESA’s public holiday provisions. For a complete list of employees who fall under a special rule or exemption, consult the HRinfodesk Quick Reference Chart, Exemptions from Certain Parts of the Employment Standards Act and Special Rules.
  • Employees whose collective agreement or employment contract is more generous to them in relation to public holidays than the public holiday provisions in the ESA (see above explanation).

Generally, employees who don’t qualify for public holiday entitlements must work on Family Day if asked by their employer. Most non-qualified employees are entitled to be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for each hour worked on Family Day. There is no substitute day off. If a non-qualified employee is not asked to work on Family Day, he or she gets the day off with no pay.

Family Day was also made a public holiday under the Ontario’s Retail Business Holidays Act (RBHA). Most retail outlets must close on a day that is a holiday under that RBHA (with exceptions).

Stronger City of Toronto for a Stronger Ontario Act, 2006 came into force in January 2007 and removed the RBHA’s application to the City of Toronto. This Act gives Toronto city council the authority to pass a by-law establishing closing requirements for retail businesses.

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Prince Edward Island

Islander Day was originally held on the second Monday of February rather than the third Monday. In 2009, the holiday’s date was later changed to the third Monday in February. The change took effect in 2010.

In Prince Edward Island, in order to qualify for the day off, with pay, an employee must:

  • be employed at least 30 calendar days prior to the holiday;
  • have earned pay on at least 15 of the 30 calendar days prior to the holiday; and
  • have worked their last scheduled shift prior to the holiday and first scheduled shift after the holiday.

An employee who qualifies for the paid holiday, but is not scheduled to work on that day, is entitled to the day off with the employee’s regular day of pay.

An employee who qualifies for the paid holiday, but is not scheduled to work on that day because the paid holiday falls on a day that is not the employee’s normal work day, is entitled to another day off with the employee’s regular day of pay.

An employee who qualifies for the paid holiday and who also works on that day, must be paid either:

  • the regular pay received for that day plus 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay for the hours worked on the paid holiday; or
  • the regular pay received for that day plus another day off with the employee’s regular day of pay on a date agreed upon by the employer and employee before the employee’s next paid vacation.

Note: An employee who has an arrangement with their employer where they may elect to either work or not work when requested, does not qualify.

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Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan became the second jurisdiction in Canada to enact Family Day as a public holiday.

In Saskatchewan, an employee who normally works Mondays and is given Family Day off, is entitled to public holiday pay. It does not matter how recently employees were hired, or how many days they worked before they are entitled to public holidays. All employees (whether full-time or part-time, permanent, or on a limited term contract) qualify for public holidays, unless they work in jobs exempt from the public holiday provision of the Employment Act, or work in businesses with special rules.

Most employees’ public holiday pay will equal to 5% of their wages, not including overtime pay, earned in the four weeks before the public holiday. As public holiday pay is a day off with pay, it is paid out in the pay period the holiday occurs in.

Note: Construction employees paid by the hour are entitled to 4% of their wages, not including overtime, earned in the year. It is payable on December 31 of the year in which the public holiday occurs or 14 days after employment termination.

Overtime in a week with a public holiday is payable to eligible employees after 32 hours.

If employees work on a holiday including managers, except those engaged in the operation of a well-drilling rig, they are entitled to both public holiday pay and premium pay of 1.5 times their hourly wage for each hour or part of an hour worked. This premium is paid on top of the employee’s public holiday pay for that day.

Employers can apply for a permit from the Director of Labour Standards allowing the public holiday to be observed on another day. If a majority of the employees agree, the director may order that the holiday be observed on another day . If the employees are represented by a trade union, the trade union and the employer may agree, in writing, to observe the public holiday on another day.

What about federally regulated workplaces?

Provincial employment standards legislation does not apply to employees of federally regulated businesses like banks, telecommunications companies, railways and airlines, or to federal civil servants. These employers are covered by the Canada Labour Code, which does not provide for Family Day. However, federally regulated employers can, at their discretion, add Family Day as a public holiday or floater day in workplace policies.

Advantages of providing Family Day

Family day provides a welcome break for employees during one of the coldest month of the year, between New Year’s Day and Easter.

It is a relatively easy and cost-efficient way for workplaces to become more family-friendly by allowing employees the use of their basic statutory holidays and offering additional holidays. These holidays provide employees with an opportunity to spend more time with their families and to deal with household responsibilities.

Several political parties and groups are calling for the federal government to make this a national holiday across Canada.

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Cristina Lavecchia

Cristina is an editor and researcher at First Reference. She is a licensed paralegal and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, Political Science major at York University. During Cristina's paralegal and undergraduate studies she studied employment standards, occupational health and safety, and workplace safety and insurance. Read more
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