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 firstname.lastname@example.org For more information and tips, visit his website at www.michaelcoyle.ca
©Michael V. Coyle, 2012