Statutory holidays are special occasions when most Canadian workers are entitled to time off work and/or holiday pay. The list of holidays and rules for compensating employees vary by province, but some rules apply at a federal level. Small business owners should know the rules to stay on the right side of the Canada Labour Code.
What Are Statutory Holidays in Canada?
Canada recognizes nine public holidays at the federal level. Not every province recognizes the same holidays, but most follow Ontario’s lead. The nine federally recognized statutory holidays are:
- New Years’ Day
- Good Friday
- Victoria Day
- Canada Day
- Labour Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Remembrance Day
- Christmas Day
- Boxing Day
Of these holidays, only New Years’ Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, and Christmas are observed Canada-wide. For the others, statutory holiday rules only apply to federal employees unless the province also observes the holiday, in which case the holiday rules apply to all non-exempt employees. Your province may also observe a holiday not on the federal calendar. January 2, for example, is a public holiday in Quebec, while Discovery Day is observed in Yukon. In these cases, the same pay and scheduling rules apply as if the day were a federal holiday, though only within the borders of the province.
Special Rules and Holiday Pay
Statutory holidays in Canada are meant to be days of rest and reflection, though the law lets private companies stay open and work if they want. If you close up shop for the day, your workers are supposed to get their regular pay for the day off. Certain exceptions apply to garment workers and people who get paid by the project or by the piece. If you have such people on your payroll, you need to know where the law stands in your province.
If your workers come in during a holiday, you must pay them the holiday pay they’d get for staying home plus 1.5 times their regular hourly rate. This is a minimum requirement in Canada, and some provinces go further. Nova Scotia, for example, requires all of the above for workers who come in on a statutory day off, plus an extra vacation day to be granted at some other time. Some employers have union contracts or other agreements with their workers that go beyond the minimum set by law. These private agreements might call for double pay on a public holiday, for instance, or they might set the observance of a holiday for some time other than what’s on the calendar. In almost all cases, the contract you have with your workers takes precedence, and labour authorities can enforce it.
What About Weekends and Overtime?
Sometimes, a public holiday falls on a day when nobody would be working anyway. New Years’ Day, for example, sometimes arrives on a Sunday. When that happens, the holiday is almost always observed on the next regular workday. When Canada Day (June 1) falls on a Saturday, for instance, the public holiday is observed on June 3, the next Monday, instead. All of the normal statutory holiday rules for time off and extra pay apply on the date of observance, no matter when it’s scheduled.
This rule has implications for companies. Your small business in Nova Scotia, for example, might need an employee to come in on Christmas. In that case, the worker gets holiday pay, 1.5 times regular hourly pay, and an extra day off to be observed whenever you and your worker agree on it. On that extra day off, the normal holiday pay rules apply as if it were a public holiday.
Overtime is another issue when you’re planning for statutory holidays, and how you handle it depends on the jurisdiction. Federal employees can still get overtime during the week the stay home for a public holiday, but the government reduces the week’s overtime threshold by eight hours or whatever the employee’s regular shift duration is. Many provinces have similar rules, but in some, such as British Columbia, the statutory hours are excluded from that week’s overtime calculation. Again, as with holiday pay and time-off requirements, if your business has a contract that goes above and beyond the minimum required by law, the law enforces the contract first.
Exceptions to Statutory Holidays
Not all employees are entitled to statutory holidays. New employees must have worked a minimum of 30 days for your company, or 15 out of the previous 30, to be eligible for statutory holiday benefits. This requirement varies by jurisdiction, but you’re better off waiving it and letting your new and part-time employees have their holiday, if only for a boost in morale.
Another exception to holiday rules is employees covered by Part III of the Canada Labour Code. Think of these as federal employees, though not all work directly for the government. Employees of Crown corporations, for example, are Part III employees, as are many people who work with First Nations or cross-province shipping and transportation. The Labour Code has a lot of detailed specifications about these workers, so you might want to study them.
Statutory holidays play a big role in Canada’s labour laws. It’s a good idea to review them and apply them consistently. When in doubt, go beyond the minimum to ensure your small business stays legal.