Planning a vacation? What are your rights?

With children out of school for the summer and temperatures heating up, many people look forward to taking time off. But what does the law say about vacations?

The Employment Standards Act – minimum rules

In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) sets out minimum rules that employers must follow. However, not all jobs are covered by the ESA, and in some cases only parts of the ESA apply.

The right to vacation time

Most people are entitled to at least two weeks of vacation, which they earn after working 12 months for the same employer. Workers must be allowed to take this time off within 10 months of earning it.

An employer has the right to decide whether the 12-month "qualifying period" begins at the start of employment or on a different date.

The employer also has the right to decide when a worker can take vacation and whether someone who has earned two weeks of vacation can take the two weeks in a row or just one week at a time. Workers cannot be required to take vacation in periods of less than one week at a time.

The right to vacation pay

Vacation time can be with pay or, if the worker has already been given their vacation pay, time off without pay. Vacation pay must be at least 4% of the total wages earned during the qualifying period for paid vacation.

How workers can enforce their rights

A worker whose rights, including vacation rights, have been violated may be able to make a claim with the Ministry of Labour. The worker should first contact their employer about the matter before making the claim, unless there is a good reason not to.

In general, a claim for unpaid wages must be filed within six months of the date the wages were owing. However, a claim for vacation pay can be filed up to 12 months after it became due. And, in some cases, the time limit for filing a claim may be up to two years. For example, workers have up to two years to file a claim against an employer for penalizing or threatening to penalize them for exercising their legal rights. Asking about the right to vacation or asking an employer to obey the law is an exercise of legal rights.

Employers may try to claim that their workers are self-employed and that the ESA does not apply to them. Workers in this situation might still have rights under the ESA and should get legal advice.

For more information or help

The Ministry of Labour website has information about vacations and Employment Standards Claim Forms.

For legal information, advice, or help, workers can contact a community legal clinic.

Workers who are discriminated against or harassed may want to make a human rights complaint. For advice and help, they can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.
July 2012

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The Workers' Action Centre is a worker-based organization committed to improving the lives and working conditions of people in low-wage and unstable employment. Their website has links to their Know Your Rights fact sheets and information about their Workers' Rights Info Line, which offers support with workplace issues.

Workers who are protected by a union may have rights that differ from those in the Employment Standards Act. They will need to use the grievance procedure set out in the collective agreement to enforce their rights. To find out more about unions and union organizing, contact the Canadian Labour Congress, Ontario Region.

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