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EMPLOYERS MAY NOT RAISE A CHEER FOR FAMILY DAY

The third Monday of every February will be celebrated as a statutory holiday in B.C. – dubbed “Family Day” – commencing in 2013.  This announcement was made by B.C.’s government, under new Premier Christy Clark, by way of the recent Speech from the Throne.

The growing trend across Canada has been to find a reason for a statutory holiday in the coldest winter month and, in a sense, it’s difficult to find fault with that thinking.  Several other provinces have already added a February paid holiday and it seems likely the others will get on the bandwagon at some point.

Many employees will receive this news in a cheery mood, thinking, “That would be great, we could really use a break at that time of year.”  I suspect, however, that many employers aren’t likely to be quite as thrilled by the imposition of a tenth statutory holiday.

Whenever talk of adding new 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 of mine to watch “A Christmas Carol” (also known as “Scrooge”).

One of the best scenes comes, before Scrooge’s redemption, as he turns down his lamp and puts away his quill and ledgers on Christmas Eve.  On the way out, he encounters his annual aggravation of Bob Cratchit’s entitlement to Christmas day off with pay.

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 an employer’s view of paying employees for statutory holidays.  I can’t imagine that many modern employers regard the concept quite as spitefully as did old Ebenezer.

I was surprised to see one union-side labour representative giving Family Day her own brand of humbug.  She was quoted as stating, “[R]eally, many minimum wage workers will probably have to work it, rather than spend time with their family, so Family Day isn’t really achieving what it set out to do for them.” 

Talk about finding a dark lining in a silver cloud – she’s forgetting about the fact that staff working on Family Day will earn at least time-and-a-half wages for their efforts.  Perhaps a visit from Scrooge’s ghosts would straighten her out.

Some employers’ reluctance about an additional statutory holiday surely has some validity.  Take, as an example, your average employer which is open for business 5 days of the week and employs salaried staff.  That employer will usually have roughly 263 available working days in which to do business, pay its overhead costs, 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 employee’s available working days in the year are reduced to 248.  But the employer pays for 263 days.

Everyone gets sick once in a while and, these days, many employers 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 the days worked in the year to 243.  The employer, however, still pays for all 263 days.

And, of course, we must factor in statutory holidays.   In B.C., there will now be ten statutory holidays (New Years Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, B.C. Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, and – Scrooge’s nemesis – Christmas Day). 

Take those paid days off into account and the typical employee is working 233 days in the year, but 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 perhaps makes the impact more stark.  Based on a 5 day work week, the average month contains approximately 22 working days.  If the typical employee has 30 paid days off in the course of a year, he or she will have been paid for almost a month and a half of unworked time.

Is that a substantial hardship for most employers?  That’s difficult for me to say, but I can imagine it adds up to a substantial obstacle for some companies.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have added another statutory holiday to the pile?  Not necessarily.  Does it mean we should cut employers a little slack for their reaction to the coming of yet another statutory holiday?  I think Bob Cratchit would say we should.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. For more information about his practice, or to subscribe to You Work Here, visit www.smithsonlaw.ca.  This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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