Northern Exposure

Ontario Adds Holiday to Celebrate Families; Other Provinces May Follow

by Daniel Pugen
McCarthy Tetrault

Following its recent re-election in October, the Ontario provincial government led by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty established a new public holiday called “Family Day.” The holiday falls on the third Monday in February each year. Ontario joins the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in creating a public holiday in February.

Ontario now has nine public holidays:

  • Family Day
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day (December 26)
  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday
  • Victoria Day (Monday preceding May 25)
  • Canada Day (July 1)
  • Thanksgiving Day (second Monday of October)
  • Labour Day (first Monday in September)

It’s likely there will be pressure from other provinces to follow suit. As a result, the addition of a new public holiday could become widespread throughout Canada.

Effect on employers

Employees are entitled to refuse to work on a public holiday and receive their normal pay. Employment standards legislation, however, also provides:

  • Employees may agree to work on a public holiday and (a) receive their regular pay plus one and a half times regular pay or (b) receive their normal pay with a substitute day off with pay in the future.
  • If a public holiday falls on a nonworking day or vacation day, the employee can agree to (a) receive pay for that day or (b) take another day off work with pay with no substitute day off.

Although under no obligation by legislation, many employers also provide employees with additional days off with pay, such as on the first Monday in August, Easter Monday, and/or Remembrance Day (November 11).

Other employers provide employees with days off with pay between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Still others provide employees with a certain number of “floating holidays.”

For workplaces such as these that provide employees with paid holidays that exceed the minimum number of public holidays provided by law, employers may be able to substitute a “nonstatutory holiday” for Family Day and avoid the expense/burden of the new public holiday. The ability to do so may vary depending on the wording of union contracts and company policies.

What to keep in mind

This new holiday may result in a significant new financial and administrative obligation on Ontario businesses and organizations unless you can replace an existing nonstatutory holiday with the new Family Day.

It is important to recognize the new public holiday and to understand what your employees are entitled to so that you can properly administer your holiday pay policies. Further, you may want to review your existing policies to consider whether you can substitute an existing nonstatutory day for Family Day.