Are employees entitled to time off to attend citizenship ceremony?

We have a landed immigrant on staff who has asked for a half day off to attend a citizenship test or ceremony. Do we have to pay him for time off?

Tim Mitchell
Question: We have a landed immigrant on staff who has asked for a half day off to attend a citizenship test or ceremony. Do we have to pay him for time off?

Answer: A citizenship ceremony is the final step taken by a landed immigrant in attaining Canadian citizenship. Attendance at the ceremony is mandatory and its timing is determined by citizenship officials. However, there is nothing in the Citizenship Act or its regulations that compels an employer to give an employee time off work for attendance at a citizenship ceremony.

Employment standards statutes throughout Canada compel the granting of leaves of absence for numerous purposes, depending on the jurisdiction. Employers are variously required to grant maternity, paternity, parental and/or adoption leaves, sickness leaves, bereavement leave, compassionate care leave and time off for voting and jury duty. I am not aware of any employment standards provision that compels an employer to grant even an unpaid leave to an employee for attendance at a citizenship hearing.

Neither the Alberta nor the federal human rights legislation includes citizenship as a prohibited ground of discrimination. It is possible, under certain circumstances, that an employee could make a claim of discrimination on the protected grounds of ancestry, place of origin, national or ethnic origin, or similar grounds in provincial human rights legislation if paid leave were made available to employees for other personal events such as marriages or religious ceremonies.

Many collective agreements do provide special leave with pay for attendance at one’s own citizenship ceremony. However, these are negotiated benefits and are not compelled by law.

Tim Mitchell is a partner with Laird Armstrong in Calgary who practices employment and labour law. He can be reached at t.mitchell@lairdarmstrong.com or (403) 233-0050.

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