I Need a Vacation! What Are My Rights?

Everybody needs a break once in a while. Maybe work is just getting to be too much, or maybe the weather is too great to pass up. Whatever your reason for having one, everybody wants to have a vacation eventually. Luckily, employees in Ontario have a right to vacation time, so we can all get the time in the sun we need.

Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, non-unionized employees who have worked for at least one year have a right to a minimum of two weeks of vacation. For example, if you were hired on June 1, 2021, then you will be entitled to two weeks of vacation after May 31, 2022. You will continue to earn two weeks of vacation after each 12-month period. Your entitlements will increase, however, once you have worked more than five years. At that point you will be entitled to three weeks of vacation after each 12-month period. So, for example, if you are hired on June 1, 2021:

  • June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022 Two weeks’ vacation
  • June 1, 2022 to May 31, 2023 Two weeks’ vacation
  • June 1, 2023 to May 31, 2024 Two weeks’ vacation
  • June 1, 2024 to May 31, 2025 Two weeks’ vacation
  • June 1, 2025 to May 31, 2026 Three weeks’ vacation
  • June 1, 2026 to May 31, 2027 Three weeks’ vacation
  • Etc.

Vacation time continues to accrue even where employees are away from work due to sickness, injury, temporary lay-off, or any other leave of absence that does not result in a break of service.

In addition to this statutory right to vacation time, non-unionized employees in Ontario also have a statutory right to vacation pay. Under the Employment Standards Act, employees who have worked less than five years are entitled to at least 4% of the gross wages earned in the previous 12-month period. Employees who have worked five years or more are entitled to at least 6% of those wages. The employer has an obligation to provide the employee with their vacation pay as a lump sum prior to them taking the vacation, with a few exceptions.

It is important to note that these are your minimum entitlements. Therefore, your employment contract may provide greater benefits than those guaranteed by the Employment Standards Act. Your employment agreement cannot provide you with less than these minimum entitlements – that would be contracting out of the Employment Standards Act and would be illegal.

Cruising on a Deadline

Although you are legally entitled to vacation time and vacation pay, you cannot necessarily take those vacations whenever you want. There are actually deadlines concerning when you may make use of your vacation time. An employee who has earned their two or three weeks of vacation time must actually take that time within 10 months after completion of the 12-month period. Furthermore, employers have the right to schedule vacation as well as the obligation to ensure the vacation is taken before the end of that 10-month period.

So, rest assured, your employer must allow you some vacation days. Your beach visit doesn’t have to be cancelled, after all!