There are legal and productivity concerns when staff don’t take time off to relax, recharge
By Alan McEwen
One aspect of every discussion on work-life balance, alpha personalities or workaholics is the question of employees who refuse to take vacation time.
After all, this is no academic question. According to Statistics Canada, the average worker in Canada was entitled to 14.7 days’ vacation in 2005, but only took 11.4 days.
Why employees may be reluctant
There are probably a couple of reasons employees are reluctant to go on vacation. They may not feel they can afford it. An employee may have worked less than normal during a vacation entitlement year, so taking vacation time would mean a drop in earnings. Some employees may also be reluctant to take vacations if they are a little too closely identified with their jobs, feel they are simply irreplaceable or are afraid to give up some control.
Every employment standards jurisdiction in Canada requires employers to provide employees with annual vacations. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Some employees are exempt from employment standards requirements. As well, vacation time is only required for employees who complete what are termed vacation entitlement years or stub periods.
But for employees who qualify, what is the employer actually required to do in order to meet this requirement? Specifically, what can, or must, the employer do when employees are reluctant to take time off work?
Before answering this, we have to clarify slightly the requirement stated above. In some jurisdictions, the requirement is not to provide or grant employees vacation time, it's to permit them to take annual vacations. Although these might seem similar, the difference is in the emphasis.
Where the employer is required to provide vacation time, the onus is on the employer to ensure this happens. Where employers are only required to permit employees to take vacations, this onus is shifted somewhat. Permitting an employee to take vacation time means the employer must not put up any obstacles. Think of it this way: When employers must provide vacation time, they must take active steps to ensure employees are given this time. When employers must permit employee vacations, they can't take any active steps that interfere with these.
“Permit,” rather than “provide,” applies in two jurisdictions: Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. In these two jurisdictions, the only action employers must take, apart from paying any related vacation pay, is to ensure employee vacations are scheduled. In both jurisdictions, the employer is primarily responsible for this scheduling. (There are also some jurisdictions where employees may be permitted to delay or waive vacation time.)
Other than the two situations above, what are employers to do when employees won't take the employment standards minimum vacation time that must be provided?
In practical terms, there is probably very little employers can do when employees resist taking vacation time. I suppose at the most extreme, when employees refuse to stay away when they are supposed to be on vacation, the employer could deny physical or Internet access to the workplace. For example, if access is controlled by a security system, employers could consider suspending such access rights during scheduled vacations.
The only practical step an employer might take is to make a refusal of the minimum required vacation time a disciplinary matter. For example, employees could be given a negative performance appraisal, denied promotion or suspended without pay if they refuse to take minimum vacation time. Although, at the extreme, employees could be dismissed for cause for interfering with the employer's obligation to provide vacation time, it's hard to believe this situation could get that far out of hand.
2 reasons employers should care
It's also a fair question to ask why employers should be concerned with whether or not employees take vacation time. There are really two answers.
First, everyone needs to recharge their batteries periodically and, ultimately, employee performance may suffer if, from time to time, there isn't a proper break from work.
Second, a refusal to take vacations may indicate other problems, either in the workplace or at home. Such problems could stem from negative employee attitudes — such as an excessive believe in one's own importance or issues of turf and control — that may be impacting other employees.
A refusal to stay away from work may also reflect difficulties in an employee's home life that might affect job performance. At its most extreme, reluctance to be away may also be an indication of more serious issues. Employees who are engaged in fraud may always need to be on site to cover up their activities. They might also not want any time away from work to be associated with changes in patterns that might be indicators of employee fraud.
Alan McEwen is a payroll consultant and freelance writer with 20 years' experience in all aspects of the industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (905) 401-4052 or visit www.alanrmcewen.com for more information.