Maybe it’s a busy season and the company needs all hands on deck, so it’s inconvenient for employees to be on vacation during this time. Or there are only two employees in the entire company capable of completing one role and one is already on vacation. Perhaps the company has experienced a fair bit of turnover, especially given the job market, and is short-staffed. Either way, you as an employer want to control when your employees do and do not take vacation time. Can you do this? The answer, for all jurisdictions in Canada, is yes, though this employer discretion may be restricted in some jurisdictions.
Vacation entitlement division
In many jurisdictions, vacation must be scheduled in one continuous period, however, this period may be broken up into shorter periods on the employee and/or employer’s agreement, depending on the jurisdiction. The minimum standards legislation of some jurisdictions provides specific rules about dividing an employee’s vacation time into shorter periods. For example, in Ontario, vacation time must be taken as a single block or chunks of one, two, or three-week periods. The exception to this rule is if the employee requests, in writing, a shorter vacation period and the employer is agreeable to this. For federally regulated employees, an employer has an obligation to schedule the employee’s vacation in a single, unbroken period, unless the employee requests otherwise in writing. In the Northwest Territories, on the other hand, the minimum standards legislation is silent on the subject of shorter vacation periods.
Waiving vacation time
Can an employee’s vacation time be waived altogether? Interestingly, yes, in some jurisdictions and in some circumstances. Nevertheless, employees must generally still be provided with the applicable vacation pay. In Ontario, an employee may forfeit a portion or the entirety of their earned vacation time, so long as they have the employer’s electronic or written agreement, and the approval of the Director of Employment Standards.
Deadline for taking vacation
Most jurisdictions in Canada identify a deadline by which vacation time must be taken after the vacation year’s end. As an example, in Ontario, vacation, under the minimum standards legislation, is required to be completed no later than ten months after the end of the vacation entitlement year. In Alberta, the minimum standards vacation period must be taken no later than 12 months after the employee becomes entitled to it.
Postponing vacation time
Typically, if an employee’s vacation time is postponed, both the vacation pay and time are deferred to another vacation year. In Nunavut, for instance, either the employee or employee and employer jointly may apply to a Labour Standards Officer to postpone the employee’s vacation beyond the usual deadline for taking the vacation time.
Notice of vacation start date
Some jurisdictions impose on employers a specific period of notice of the commencement of an employee’s vacation time. In Prince Edward Island, an employer must notify the employee of the employee’s vacation start date at least one week prior. In Saskatchewan, this notice period is four weeks. Other provinces, like Ontario or British Columbia, do not define a specific notice period in the minimum standards legislation.
Many employers, likely including a number of you reading this blog, will opt to allow employees to request vacation time rather than inflexibly scheduling the timing of vacations. Though an employer has the final right when it comes to scheduling vacation, subject to the applicable minimum standards legislation, it is expected, at least in some jurisdictions, that employers will consult with the employee to come to a mutually agreeable vacation period as a first step. On a practical note, employers may wish to create a booking system to assist employees with requesting vacation days that do not get in the way of business needs.