Many workers have had their vacation plans put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic, but still have vacation time to use. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about taking vacations with pay.

How much vacation does my employer have to give me?

Your employment contract and any applicable employer policies may outline your vacation entitlements. If you’re a unionized worker, check your collective agreement.

In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act sets the bare minimum terms and conditions of employment for most workers. It guarantees an employee who has worked for an employer for less than five years at least two weeks of paid vacation after each year of employment. An employee who has worked for an employer for more than five years is guaranteed at least three weeks of paid vacation a year. These are minimums. An employer may provide more vacation to its employees, and some employees, including those represented by a trade union, may be able to negotiate greater vacation entitlements.

Some Ontario workers are exempt from this and other parts of the Employment Standards Act. The list includes lawyers, registered massage therapists and commissioned salespersons as well as workers employed in commercial fishing and on most farms. If you are one of these workers, your vacation entitlement is subject only to negotiation with the employer.

Other Ontario workers are employed by federally regulated employers such as banks, telecommunications companies and First Nations band councils. For these workers, the Canada Labour Code guarantees similar entitlements as the Ontario legislation, except that the federal legislation additionally entitles employees with 10 or more years of service to at least four weeks of vacation with pay.

What if I’ve been on leave because of COVID-19?

Some workers are eligible for infectious disease emergency leave under the Employment Standards Act or leave related to COVID-19 under Canada Labour Code as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Workers can postpone their vacations until after the end of this leave, even if they were required to have taken it within the duration of the leave.

Is it the same for other types of leaves, too?

Yes. The Employment Standards Act entitles employees to various unpaid leaves of absence like pregnancy and parental leave, family responsibility leave and sick leave. Federally regulated employees are guaranteed similar entitlements under the Canada Labour Code, in addition to leave that enables Métis, Inuit and First Nations workers to engage traditional practices including hunting, fishing and harvesting.

Workers can defer their vacation during any such leaves. An employer cannot force employees to take vacation instead of any other leave entitlements.

I’m working from home. Can I wait until my office reopens to schedule vacation?

That may be up to your employer. An employer has the right to determine when any of its employees take vacation, unless an employee’s contract of employment or collective agreement says otherwise.

The only limit on this discretion is that employer’s must allow employees to take their vacation within ten months after the year in which it was earned.

You also cannot be forced to split up your vacation. An employer has to assign vacation in a single period of at least one week, under the Employment Standards Act, unless the employee agrees otherwise. The Canada Labour Code requires employer to approve vacation in a single period unless the employee asks to take it in more than one period.

If work has slowed down because of the coronavirus, employers may want employees to use up vacation while lockdown measures are in place. That said, an employer will typically attempt to agree with their employees when their vacation will be scheduled. In unionized workplaces, vacation may be scheduled on the basis of seniority.

What if I travel for vacation this summer?

You may want to stick close to home due to the COVID-19 public health precautions, even if lockdown restrictions are easing up in some places. The Ontario government is still advising residents to stay at home as much as possible and practice physical distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19. Anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 is advised to get tested and self-isolate for at least 14 days. The federal government is advising that we avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada. It is presently mandatory for all travellers entering Canada to isolate or quarantine themselves for 14 days to limit the spread of COVD-19.

 If I don’t use it, can I lose it?

Your employment contract may limit the amount of vacation with pay you can carry over from one year to the next. If that is the case, then you may be required to forfeit any unused vacation entitlements beyond the minimum guarantees in the Employment Standards Act or Canada Labour Code. An employer can never deprive employees of these minimum statutory entitlements.

When do I get my vacation pay?

Vacation pay is due at the start of your vacation or the next regular pay day, although in some cases Ontario employers will pay their employees the vacation pay that has accrued in each pay period. Workers entitled to two weeks’ vacation must receive vacation pay of at least 4% of their gross wages in the prior year. Workers entitled to three weeks’ vacation must receive at least 6% of their gross wages in the prior year. Federally regulated employees entitled to four weeks of vacation with pay must receive at least 8% of their gross wages in the prior year.

If I don’t take vacation, do I still get vacation pay?

 Vacation pay accrues on wages earned as soon as you start working. The employer holds onto it until you take vacation. You can agree to forego vacation, if the Director of Employment Standards approves, but your employer cannot forego paying your vacation pay. But, really, you should take your vacation.

[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without an assessment of your individual circumstances.]