You are here

Employers Won't Be Cheering Another Statutory Holiday

February 18th, the third Monday of the month, will be celebrated as a day off in Ontario and Manitoba this year. Chances are, within a few years it will have become a statutory holiday across the country.   
 
Many people will receive this news in a cheerful way. In my house, the reaction was, “That would be great. We could really use a bit of a break right about now.”  I suspect, however, that most employers aren’t likely to be quite as thrilled by the possibility of a new statutory holiday.
 
Whenever talk of statutory holidays comes up, I’m reminded of a classic scene in one of my favourite movies. Every December 24th, it’s a minor tradition in our household to watch “A Christmas Carol” (also known as “Scrooge”).
 
One of my favourite scenes comes as Scrooge finally turns down his lamp and puts away his books on Christmas eve. On the way out, he confronts his annual aggravation of Bob Cratchit’s entitlement to Christmas day off with pay (Christmas, it appears, was the only recognized “statutory holiday” in England at that time).
 
Scrooge: “You’ll want the whole day off tomorrow, I suppose”.
 
Cratchit: “If quite convenient, sir.”
 
Scrooge: “It’s not convenient, and it’s not fair. If I stopped you half a crown for it you’d think yourself ill-used, wouldn’t you? But you don’t think me ill-used if I pay a day’s wages for no work, do you?”
 
Cratchit: “’Tis only once a year, sir.”
 
Scrooge: “That’s a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December.”
 
That’s about as stark a portrayal as you’ll find of the employer’s situation in the face of paying employees for statutory holidays. I can’t imagine many modern employers regard the concept quite as spitefully as did Scrooge (until his life-changing Christmas experience).
 
While their reaction to the possibility of another statutory holiday may be portrayed in a Scrooge-like light, employers’ views surely have some validity. Take, as an example, your average employer which is open for business 5 days of the week and employs salaried staff. In 2008, that employer will have 263 available working days in which to do business, generate a profit, etc.
 
The law, in B.C., requires that employees be paid a minimum of 4% of their wages in the year as vacation pay. That works out to roughly 2 weeks of pay for most salaried employees. But, the entitlement increases with length of service, so the average employee probably receives more like 3 weeks paid vacation. 
 
Taking that 3 weeks of paid vacation into account, the result is that the employee’s available working days in the year are reduced to 248. But, the employer is paying for 263 days.
 
Everyone gets sick once in a while and, these days, most employers of salaried staff provide some degree of sick pay. Let’s say the average employee takes 5 days of paid sick leave in the course of the year. That reduces his days worked in the year to 243. Again, the employer is still paying for 263 days.
 
And, of course, we must factor in statutory holidays.   In B.C., there are presently nine statutory holidays (New Years Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, B.C. Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, and - Scrooge’s favourite - Christmas Day). Add a new one in February and we’ll have an even 10 statutory holidays.
 
Take those paid days off into account and the typical employee is working 233 days in the year, but still getting paid for 263 days. That means that the employer is receiving only 89% of the services for which it is paying.
 
Looking at it another way makes the impact even more jarring. Based on a 5 day work week, the average month has 22 working days. If the typical employee has 30 paid days off in the course of a year, she has been paid for almost a month and a half during which she was not working.
 
Is that a substantial hardship for most employers? That’s difficult for me to say. Combined with factors such as the high value of the Canadian dollar and what some would say is a comparatively low level of productivity by Canadian workers, it must add up to a substantial obstacle for some companies.
 
Does that mean we shouldn’t have one more statutory holiday? Not necessarily. But, does it mean we should cut employers a little slack when they react to the coming of yet another statutory holiday? I think Bob Cratchit would say we should.
 

Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, log on to http://www.pushormitchell.com/.