Confusion reigns over February holiday

Workers expect the new holiday but not all employers are taking the day off
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/07/2008

In the long, cold stretch between New Year’s Day and Easter, Ontario and Manitoba’s new February holiday offers a welcome respite to workers in those provinces. However, some employees who are expecting to get Feb. 18 off might be disappointed, according to a recent survey.

The Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO) surveyed more than 3,000 members and found 17.6 per cent of respondents will not provide Family Day while another 18.4 per cent will compensate for the holiday by using an existing floater holiday.

With the additions of Family Day (Ontario) and Louis Riel Day (Manitoba), provincially regulated employers have to provide nine paid holidays in Ontario and eight days in Manitoba.

However, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Ontario employers that exceed the Employment Standards Act by providing at least 10 holidays might not have to provide the new February holiday.

But that doesn’t mean employees don’t expect it.

“The assumption is, that when the province made that change, that employees would automatically be entitled to that day,” said Anthony Perlman, a principle in the benefits practice at consulting firm Hewitt Associates in Toronto.

In order to meet the legislative requirements in all provinces and ensure employees receive the same number of holidays no matter where they work, many national employers offer a bank of holidays that exceeds provincial statutes, said Perlman.

“Employers will give a bank of 14 days or 13 days and they deal with the statutory days within that bank,” he said.

To give employees Family Day in February, employers might decide to use one of the extra, or floater, holidays, he said. In a recent Hewitt survey of 265 organizations, 51 per cent of national employers that offer the same number of holidays to all employees said they would use an existing paid holiday, such as the civic holiday in August, for Family Day.

“The perception of employees is that they might be losing something by getting that particular Family Day,” said Perlman. “The number of days is still the same, but employees lose the flexibility.”

However, 76 per cent of Ontario-only employers and 74 per cent of national employers that offer a different number of holidays in different provinces said they would give an additional paid holiday for Family Day.

In unionized environments, collective agreements that provide more holidays than the provincial statute mean employers might also be able to get away with not giving an extra day off in February. However, the unions aren’t likely to give up without a fight.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents mainly school and municipal employees, has approached Ontario employers that aren’t offering the extra holiday and asked them to honour it, regardless of the collective agreement, said union president Paul Moist.

“Some collective agreements have language that says any new proclaimed holidays will be granted and included, so there’s no debate. Some don’t have that provision,” he said. “Where we haven’t settled it apart from bargaining, we will settle it in bargaining and confirm it for our members in Ontario.”

Federally regulated employers don’t have to provide Family Day or Louis Riel Day, but most employees don’t understand why they don’t get a holiday that so many of their friends and family get, said Laura Thanasse, senior vice-president of total rewards for Scotiabank in Toronto.

“Employees are confused about the nuances between being provincially and federally regulated,” said Thanasse. “I think a lot of employees thought they would be receiving the day off.”

This expectation was one of the reasons Scotiabank, which is federally regulated, decided to give employees the day off for Family Day in Ontario and Louis Riel Day in Manitoba.

Besides being a goodwill gesture to employees, the decision made good business sense, said Thanasse. Some of the employees are provincially regulated and it was just easier to provide the day for all employees, regardless of which statute covered them.

Also, the Toronto Stock Exchange will be closed on Family Day, which affects the bank’s capital market group’s ability to do its job, and the Canadian Bankers Association has declared the day a bank holiday, which means services such as cheque clearing facilities won’t be available to branch employees.

The bank now provides nine federal holidays and two provincial holidays in each province, for a total of 11 holidays for all bank employees.

Another federally regulated company, Vancouver-based telecommunications company Telus, has taken a different approach.

“As a national company it’s a challenge for us to provide consistent holiday benefits for employees when there are inconsistencies between provinces,” said Telus spokesperson Shawn Hall.

The company provides the nine federal statutory holidays and three personal days, said Hall. Employees can use the extra three days anytime throughout the year, either for religious holidays not covered by federal statutes or some extra personal time, he said.

“It’s a flexible approach that’s consistent across our entire operation and allows people to take time off that suits their personal needs.”

Alberta has had a February holiday since 1990 and Saskatchewan added one in 2007.

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