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Must vacation time be given in consecutive weeks?

Does your vacation policy require employees to take time off in consecutive weeks? What does the law say? The answer: it depends on the jurisdiction.

In general, vacations must be taken sometime in the 12 months after the employee becomes entitled to the vacation. Vacations must be given in one unbroken period unless the employee requests to take their vacations in shorter periods. This is permissible as long as those periods are at least one day long. However, some jurisdictions vary the general requirements.

Most employers and employees are able to agree to a mutually convenient date(s) for annual vacations. However, if they cannot agree, it is up to the employer to give the employee written notice (amount of notice depends on the jurisdiction) of when an employee’s vacation is to start. The employee must take the vacation during that time.

Briefly stated,

In Ontario, The employer can determine when vacation may be taken. It may be a two-week period or two periods of one week each. The vacation must be a two-week period or two periods of one week each unless the employee requests in writing that the vacation be taken in shorter periods (including one day at a time) and the employer agrees to that request. Vacation must be completed no later than 10 months after the end of the 12-month period for which the vacation is given.

In federally regulated jurisdictions, vacation must begin not later than 10 months after completion of the “year of employment” for which the employee became entitled to vacation. The Canada Labour Code is currently silent on the issue of whether vacations can be granted in any other way than in consecutive weeks.

In Alberta, regulations entitle an employee to take two (or three) weeks in an unbroken period, within 12 months after the employee becomes entitled to vacation. If the employer and employee are unable to agree upon a mutually satisfactory date to start the employee’s vacation, the employer must give the employee at least two weeks of written notice of the date on which the employee is start vacation, and the employee must take the vacation at that time. The legislation also provides that at an employee’s written request, the employer may provide the vacation in two or more periods, so long as each vacation period is at least one day long.

In British Columbia, specifies that vacations must be taken in periods of one or more weeks and that the vacation must be given within 12 months after completing the year of employment entitling the employee to the vacation. Employees may request vacations in periods of less than a week; however, the onus is on the employer to show that an employee requested the change.

In Manitoba, specifies that the vacation must be given not later than 10 months after the employee becomes entitled to it. Additionally, if an employer and employee are unable to agree on when the employee will take vacation, the employer must give the employee at least 15 days of notice of the date on which the vacation is to begin, and the employee must take vacation at that time. Vacation must be in periods of not less than one week at a time. What’s more, if businesses have a customary annual shutdown period, employers may require employees to take their annual vacation at that time. However, this must be set out in a company policy or the employment contract.

In Saskatchewan, the employer must permit an employee to take the entire annual vacation, in one continuous and uninterrupted period, within 12 months after the date on which the employee becomes entitled. Notwithstanding the foregoing, an employee may, not later than the day on which the employee becomes entitled to annual vacation, give the employer written notice to take vacation other than in a continuous and uninterrupted period but in periods not less than one week. In such cases the employer must permit the employee to take the vacation in the manner mentioned in the notice.

In Quebec, an employee may schedule and take vacation at the discretion of the employer, or at a mutually agreed upon time. However, it must begin not later than 12 months after completion of the “year of employment” for which the employee became entitled to vacation. Where the employer has chosen the timing of the vacation, the employer must give at least four weeks notice of when the employee’s annual vacation is to begin. The annual vacation may be divided into more than two periods if the employer consents. However, a vacation period not exceeding one week cannot be divided. Further, if businesses have a customary annual shutdown period, employers may require employees to take their annual vacation at that time.

In New Brunswick, vacations with pay must be provided within four months after eligibility. Vacations must be taken in one two-week unbroken period. New Brunswick requires the employer to notify an employee at least one week in advance of when the employee’s vacation is to commence. If businesses have a customary annual shutdown period, employers may require employees to take their annual vacation at that time. However, the customary shutdown as vacation must be indicated in a company policy or the employment contract.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, vacation with pay must be provided within 10 months after eligibility. In Newfoundland and Labrador, two-week vacation entitlements may be taken in one unbroken period of two weeks or two unbroken periods of one week each, unless the employer and the employee mutually agree otherwise. For employees with a three-week entitlement, vacation may be taken in one unbroken period of three weeks, two unbroken periods of two weeks and one week, or in three unbroken periods of one week, unless the employer and employee mutually agree otherwise. Newfoundland and Labrador legislation also requires that unless the employer and employee agree otherwise, in writing, the employer must give the employee not less than two weeks’ written notice of the dates of the annual vacation. Once the notice is given, the employee must take vacation during the period specified in the notice.

In Nova Scotia, vacation with pay must be provided within 10 months after eligibility. In Nova Scotia, vacations may be taken in one unbroken week and several periods. However, an employer who wants to pay vacation pay on a weekly or bi-weekly basis can do so, but it must be clearly communicated to the employee and records need to be retained to substantiate this. The vacation pay should also be identified on the pay stub.

In Prince Edward Island, vacations with pay must be provided within four months after eligibility. Vacations must be taken in one two-week unbroken period although the employer and employee may mutually agree otherwise. Prince Edward Island requires the employer to notify an employee at least one week in advance of when the employee’s vacation is to commence.

In the Northwest Territories, An employee may schedule and take vacation at the discretion of the employer, or at a mutually agreed upon time. However, it must begin no later than six months after completion of the “year of employment” for which the employee became entitled to vacation. The Code does not address how much notice an employer must give employees of when vacation is to begin. Vacations must be given in one unbroken period unless the employee requests to take their vacations in shorter periods. This is permissible so long as those periods are at least one day long.

In the Yukon, an employee may schedule and take vacation at the discretion of the employer, or at a mutually agreed upon time. However, it must begin not later than 10 months after completion of the “year of employment” for which the employee became entitled to vacation. Vacations must be given in an unbroken period of at least two weeks.

In Nunavut, An employee may schedule and take vacation at the discretion of the employer, or at a mutually agreed upon time. However, it must begin not later than 10 months after completion of the “year of employment” for which the employee became entitled to vacation. The Code does not address how much notice an employer must give employees of when vacation is to begin. Vacations must be given in one unbroken period unless the employee requests to take their vacations in shorter periods. This is permissible so long as those periods are at least one day long.

Employers are recommended to ensure they are following the particular rules of their jurisdiction. In most cases, employers will see that flexibility has been built into the legislation – typically, the parties can agree to something a bit different than what is stipulated. Consider establishing a cut-off date for determining vacation entitlement. This enables the employer to clearly establish vacation pay liability at the cut-off date; and makes it easier to plan vacation time for each employee for the forthcoming 12 months. A reasonable cut-off date is December 31, each year. However, to accomplish this goal, employers are recommended to have a solid workplace policy that is communicated to employees and consistently used and enforced. The policy and any accompanying procedures can set out what is required of both the employer and employee so that the perfect vacation can be made and the employee returns refreshed.

If you want to know more about the rules surrounding vacation time and pay, please consult the following First Reference publication, The Human Resources Advisor, Ontario, Western or Atlantic Editions. To know how to draft a Lunch/meal break policy, and cover all your bases, consult the Human Resources PolicyPro, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Atlantic Editions.

Christina Catenacci and Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editors

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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