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Whether employees are back at work or still off on layoff, the backdrop of the global pandemic has brought with it a unique set of challenges when it comes to vacations. With the world in flux and travel plans on hold, some employees are reluctant to take time off. In the time of COVID-19, what do you need to know about employees and vacation time?

Vacation can be complex at the best of times, never mind during a global pandemic. That’s why we’ve put together a list of FAQs to help clarify the issues for employers.  

Can I require my employees to take vacation at a certain time?

The short answer is yes. Employers can require employees to take vacation at a certain time and can request that employees take vacation during slow periods or deny requests that conflict with business needs. That said, from a human perspective, employers should try to be reasonable in the ways they enforce this, especially in light of COVID-19, when employees working from home may be more hesitant to schedule time off.

What about vacation and pay entitlements?

Remember that vacation time and vacation pay are separate entitlements – employees must receive both. Under employment standards, vacation time and vacation pay are treated separately. What this means is that employers must make sure that employees are taking off the mandated minimum time allotted under employment standards.

Employees cannot opt to skip taking time off and just opt to receive their earned vacation pay – they also have to take the time off mandated under BC ESA.

If my employee is off on COVID-related leave or has been laid off, can I ask them to use their vacation time while they’re off work?

An employer cannot get out of their obligation to provide a job-protected leave by requiring an employee to use vacation time while they’re off on leave for COVID-related reasons. Similarly, if an employee has been laid off, you cannot force them to use their vacation time. The exception to this is if an employee has requested to use their vacation time to cover a portion of the layoff or leave period.

What if they had vacation planned already but they’re off work because of COVID?

Any pre-planned vacation time would be put on “pause” if the employee is off on a COVID-related leave or layoff. The vacation time would then be banked and waiting for them for when they return.

Can I request, require, or allow employees to carry over their vacation time during the pandemic?

An employer must provide the minimum vacation time off and pay entitlements as set out in employment standards. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: as tempting as it might be, you can’t contract out of employment standards. Employees must receive their minimum vacation entitlements annually. For example, if an employee is entitled to two weeks of vacation that was accrued the year prior, they would need to take that two weeks as set out in BC employment standards in the year they are entitled to take it.

If you absolutely cannot provide the accrued vacation (for example, if the employee will not be returning to work in the relevant period of time), you could opt to bank the vacation entitlement and ensure the employee receives it when they come back to work.

Though it remains to be seen how the Ministry of Labour will treat the exceptional circumstances created by the pandemic, best practices remain the same! It’s not just about compliance – it’s also about encouraging team members to disconnect, take a breather, and recharge their batteries, even if it’s just for a staycation.

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

Are your vacation policies clear, current, and consistently enforced? Take five minutes today to dig out your policy and make sure it’s up to date and compliant, and then send a quick refresher brief to employees so that everyone is on the same page.

If vacation administration still seems confusing, you’re definitely not alone! We’re here for you, and are happy to help create clarity, whether it’s a quick policy review or a total revamp.

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