What are my vacation pay obligations when an employee departs?

When a staff member leaves, you must review their vacation pay entitlement. This is done by calculating vacation pay earned and subtracting vacation time used. If the employee has not used their vacation time, you must pay out the amount owing in cash.

What are the repercussions of not taking time off?

First, a reminder of how and when vacation time is earned: Employees earn their vacation time upon completion of a year of work (the Ontario Ministry of Labour calls it a “12-month vacation entitlement year”), and each subsequent 12-month period. If the employer deviates from the standard entitlement year, the employee is entitled to their minimum vacation time as well as a pro-rated amount of vacation time for the ‘stub period’ which precedes the start of the first alternative vacation entitlement year.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour dictates that vacation time earned (whether based on a completed entitlement year or stub period) must be taken within 10 months. The employer has the right to schedule the employee’s vacation time and/or ensure vacation is scheduled and taken.

Upon obtaining written agreement from their employer and the approval of the Director of Employment, an employee can give up some or all earned vacation time. The employer is still obliged to issue the employee vacation pay. You can give up vacation time, but you do not give up your right to the remuneration associated with that time.

You can learn more about vacation time from the Ontario Ministry of Labour website or by visiting the labour website applicable to your region.

What is vacation pay versus regular pay?

Vacation pay is remuneration for time off! The Ministry of Labour, through the Employment Standards Act, allows for 2 weeks of paid vacation per year worked. This is the legal minimum — and many employers offer their employees more than the standard 2 weeks, often to reward long service with the company.

The 2-week amount is often expressed as 4% of your regular pay. (Out of 52 weeks in the year, you work 50 and go on holiday for 2; the 2 weeks is 4% of the 50.) If you’ve worked less than a full year, the amount of paid vacation you receive is pro-rated accordingly. So, summer students, for instance, would receive vacation pay amounting to 4% of their summer earnings.

Visit this Q & A for methods on calculating vacation pay. Vacation pay is treated in the same manner as regular pay in terms of tax, EI, and CPP deductions.

Visit the Ministry of Labour website for more information on vacation pay in Ontario, or find a comparable government resource for your location.

How do I calculate vacation pay for my staff?

Updated January 2018

There are 2 methods to calculate vacation pay: you can include vacation pay in each paycheque, or your can pay it out in a lump sum when employees take their holiday (or when their contract ends). For our examples, let’s assume an employee receiving the Employment Standards Act minimum of 2 paid weeks per year worked, or 4% of earnings. (Update as of January 2018: Under the ESA employees who have seniority of 5 years or more are entitled to 3 paid weeks per year worked or 6% of earnings).

Method 1 – Pay with each cheque:

Vacation pay can be rolled into regular pay, so the employee receives it as they earn it. This means that the employee has to do their own saving-up for time off. This method is often used for part-timers, temporary and hourly-paid staff.

Example: An employee earns $1,000.00 per pay cheque. The employee has vacation paid on each cheque, therefore they receive $1,000.00 in pay + 4% ($40.00) for a total of $1,040.00 of gross pay each pay period. If they have seniority of 5 years or more, they would receive $1,000,00 in pay + 6% ($60.00) for a total of $1,060.00 of gross pay each pay period).

Method 2A – Pay with holiday – Salary:

Salaried employees get “paid vacation”, which means they receive their normal salary without interruption even when on vacation. There is no change in the rate or frequency of their pay; they just get paid time off. In the payroll records, 4% vacation pay is accrued each week. (For employees with 5 years or more of seniority, it would be 6%). That is, the employer sets aside the vacation pay amount as money owing to the employee for their holiday. Since the process is seamless for both the employer and the employee, the accrual process may be omitted: if the employee gets their regular pay, the requirements have been fulfilled!

Method 2B – Pay with holiday – Non-Salary:

Part-time, casual and hourly-paid staff often have an irregular stream of earnings. From the employer’s viewpoint, the accounting is the same: you accrue 4% of each week’s earnings, setting it aside as an amount owed to the employee. (Again, this would be 6% for employees with 5 years or more in seniority). However, when the employee takes time off, their vacation payout will not correspond to a normal paycheque — so from their point of view vacation pay is a lump sum.

Example: The employee is about to take her/his annual vacation, and no vacation pay has yet been paid. Therefore, the employer bases vacation pay on the employee’s total gross pay since the last time they took vacation. In this case, the employee has earned $13,978.65 in gross earnings since his or her last vacation. 4% of those gross earnings warrants vacation pay of $559.15.

Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour website (or a comparable website for your area) for more information on vacation pay.

I got a bonus, and I had to pay a huge chunk of it as tax. What happened?

The bonus becomes part of your total compensation for the year. Let’s say your salary is $36,000 and your employer gives you a $500 bonus. You now need to be taxed as though you’re making $36,500. The bonus calculations need to adjust for the boost in your annual earnings.

Employment Insurance (EI) is a straight percentage of earnings up to an annual maximum. It’s not the culprit, here.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is a straight percentage of earnings over $3,500, to an annual maximum. The first $3,500 of earnings is not pensionable. This exempt amount is spread over all of the pays in the year. So, on a salary of $36,000, your weekly gross would be $36,000 ÷ 52 = $692.31. Your weekly non-pensionable earnings would be $3,500 ÷ 52 = $67.31. You pay CPP on only $692.31 – $67.31 = $625.00.

However, if you receive the $500 bonus on a separate cheque, you need to pay CPP on the whole bonus, because you’ve already had the exempt amount on your paycheque. That may make the CPP feel extra expensive.

Tax works in a similar way. In Canada, the first chunk of our income is tax-free: the basic personal exemption (for 2012, $10,822 federally). Thereafter, increasing tax rates apply to different slices of our income. Here are the rates for 2012.

The tax amount on your weekly paycheque is a blended rate: 0% on the first slice, 15% on the next slice, and so on. However, a lump sum such as a bonus must be taxed at the marginal rate: the tax rate that applies to the next dollar of earnings. This can feel very costly, but in fact it’s fair.

To work this out for yourself, you can use the CRA Payroll Deductions Online Calculator, or your can try the manual method, explained in more detail here.