Tag Archives: Nova Scotia Labour Lawyer

Experienced labour lawyer, arbitrator and mediator serving Atlantic Canada

Statutory Holidays in Nova Scotia

by Michael V. Coyle, JD*

It seems that as each “holiday” approaches I get questions from employers and sometimes from employees about what the “paid holidays” are in Nova Scotia. And no wonder. It can be quite confusing.

Under Nova Scotia law there are only six “paid holidays”: New Years Day, Heritage Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day. Remembrance Day is not a “holiday” per se, but most businesses in this province are required to be closed on November 11 and, under the Remembrance Day Act, they are required to pay their employees for that day.

What about those other “holidays” that we all know and love:  Victoria Day, Thanksgiving Day and Boxing Day? Well, these are not technically paid holidays for employees in Nova Scotia who work for businesses under the provincial jurisdiction. Most employers in Nova Scotia come under the provincial jurisdiction, except broadcasters, the banks, telecommunications, airline and (certain) transportation companies. However, these federal holidays, often called “bank holidays” because the banks are closed, are traditionally recognized as paid holidays by most non-retail employers in Nova Scotia.

If these “bank holidays” have been historically recognized by an employer and if the employer suddenly decides not to recognize them as “paid holidays” the affected employees could file a complaint under the provincial Labour Standards Code that the employer has broken an “agreement” with the employees and they could seek their lost pay (or a day off in lieu) for those days.

And, as a practical matter, most unionized employees get all of the above holidays under their Collective Agreements with the employer (plus the “August holiday” that I will discuss in a moment). Because the provincial government is a unionized employer that means that provincial government offices, the courts and public registries are also closed on those so-called “federal” holidays, even though they are not actually provincial general holidays.

Easter Monday is not a recognized holiday, either provincially or federally, but it is a designated holiday under the provincial civil service collective agreement, so government offices are closed. Some employers have traditionally recognized Easter Monday as a paid holiday and, as such, they could also be held to that “agreement” with their employees.

By the same token, Davis Day (June 11), while not a statutory holiday, is staunchly recognized in some former mining communities in Nova Scotia as a quasi-civic holiday.

The holiday that falls on the first Monday in August, which has been traditionally called Natal Day in Halifax and is now generally referred to elsewhere as “the August holiday”, has become widely observed throughout the province. As mentioned, many union contracts in Nova Scotia now recognize it as a paid holiday so the provincial government offices are closed that day. The banks also recognize it voluntarily, as do many of our leading employers.

Retailers are governed by designated retail closing day legislation and, if they operate in a shopping mall, by leases that may require them to be open on some “holidays”.

Of course, most employers understand that traditional holidays, even if they are not technically “statutory holidays” are very important to their employees. Many of us have family and community traditions built around them. Whether it is opening the cottage on the Victoria Day weekend, a community or church picnic on the August holiday weekend or sharing a family meal on Thanksgiving Day, these holidays are much-anticipated and appreciated events that contribute to employee morale, family bonds and work-life balance.

So, I explain to my business clients that while, legally-speaking, you may be able to require your employees to come to work on Boxing Day – or dock their pay if they stay home – you run the risk of offending your employees, their families, at least some of your customers and the wider community in which you operate. Most employers agree that would not be particularly good for business. And there is the chance that you could still face a Labour Standards complaint.

*Michael Coyle is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources and a retired employment and labour relations lawyer based in Canning, Nova Scotia. Information and opinion expressed in this article is meant for general interest only and is not a substitute for professional advice about your own situation. Michael can be reached by email at [email protected]  For more information and tips, visit his website at www.michaelcoyle.ca

©Michael V. Coyle, 2012












Regular Employee Performance Appraisals a Must

by Michael V. Coyle, JD*

Sally’s job performance had been slipping. The boss grumbled but did nothing. Recently, she missed an important deadline that cost the company a contract. She used the ‘excuse’ that she was often distracted by her home situation because, as the employer knew, she had to look after her elderly mother with progressive dementia. The boss didn’t buy it and she was fired for poor performance.

Joan’s work was first rate. She was up to any challenge. The boss and the clients loved her and she was a real asset to the company with a bright future, which everybody just assumed she knew. Then she quit to work for a competitor and many of the clients followed her out the door.

In neither case did the company do regular employee performance appraisals. And in both cases it cost them.

Sally sued for wrongful dismissal and won. The company was unable to document her “increasingly poor performance” leading up to her dismissal and, even worse, was unable to show that there had been any warnings or counselling or any progressive discipline before she was fired for that “one incident”. She testified that her boss was irritable and unapproachable and made snide comments all the time. She also successfully brought a human rights complaint against the employer because the company had failed to accommodate her family situation and therefore had discriminated against on grounds of her family status. All told, with legal fees and damages, the cost to the employer was well in the six figure range.

If Sally had had regular performance appraisals not only would the employer have a record of her deteriorating performance and their efforts to help her improve it but they would likely have been made aware of her home situation. Human rights tribunals across the country are increasingly placing an onus on the employer, once they are aware of a potential human rights issue, to explore that with the employee and discuss accommodation. A routine performance review would have provided that opportunity.

The failure of Joan’s employer to have regular performance appraisals meant that it missed the opportunity to tell Joan how great she was doing, to thank her for her efforts and to discuss her future with the company. Instead, she felt taken for granted and that her accomplishments were unnoticed and unappreciated. She was particularly disappointed that the company never asked for her input on what they could do to be a better employer. When the competitor offered a more progressive employment package that included support for employee growth and development (based on regular reviews) she was off like a shot.

Performance reviews do not need to be a torment – for either the employee or the manager. Performance appraisal forms should avoid ‘check boxes’. They should permit both the manager and the employee to give a narrative answer, without the incessant ‘excellent, good, fair, poor’ categories or their numerical equivalents.

The purpose of these reviews is twofold. They provide an opportunity for the manager to give feedback – both positive and negative – so that the employee knows where they stand, good and bad. And they give both parties an opportunity to look towards the future in a constructive and mutually beneficial way.

It is legally very risky indeed for an employer not to have regular performance reviews with all of their employees. It is equally risky for employees to work for such an employer.

Regular performance reviews should, of course, be tied to a currently updated company employment policy. But that’s another topic.

*Michael Coyle is an experienced employment and human rights lawyer based in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Information and opinion expressed in this article is meant for general interest only and is not a substitute for legal advice about your own situation. Michael can be reached by email at [email protected]  For more information and tips, visit his website at www.michaelcoyle.ca

©Michael V. Coyle, 2012