(416) 214-5111

With summer upon us, many of us are dreaming of beaches and well-deserved time off. Vacation plans are on everyone’s mind. But before you pack your bags, let’s talk about something equally important: vacation pay. As experts in employment law, we’ve seen firsthand how misunderstandings about vacation pay can lead to workplace disputes and legal issues. Whether you’re an employer seeking clarity on the complexities of the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) or an employee curious about your entitlements, this blog tailored for you. We’ll simplify the legal jargon and break down everything you need to know about vacation pay in Ontario.

What is Vacation Pay?

Vacation pay signifies the compensation an employee receives during their time off work. It typically amounts to a percentage of the gross wages earned during the year for which the vacation is being given. While the ESA sets out the minimum requirements for vacation pay, employers have the flexibility to offer more generous terms if they choose.

Minimum Requirements for Vacation Pay

As specified by the ESA, employees are entitled to vacation pay based on their length of service:

  • For employees with under 5 years of tenure, they receive:
    • 4% of gross wages
  • For employees with 5 years or more tenure, they receive:
    • 6% of gross wages

It’s important to note that the above represents minimum requirements. Some employers may offer higher percentages or additional vacation time as part of their employment packages.

Calculating Vacation Pay

To calculate vacation pay you simply multiply the employee’s gross wages by the appropriate percentage (either 4% or 6%). Gross wages include regular wages, overtime pay, public holiday pay, and bonuses or commissions based on sales or production. However, this calcultation does not include previous vacation pay or severance pay.

For Instance:

Let’s say an employee with three (3) years of service earns $50,000 in gross wages for the year.

  • Vacation pay calculation: $50,000 x 4% = $2,000 in vacation pay

When is Vacation Pay Paid?

The ESA allows for flexibility in how vacation pay is provided. Employers can choose to:

  • Pay vacation pay as a lump sum before the employee takes their vacation,
  • Include vacation pay with each payroll, or
  • Pay vacation pay on any other schedule agreed upon in writing by the employer and employee.

Regardless of the method chosen, employers must clearly indicate the amount of vacation pay separately on the employee’s wage statement.

Vacation Time vs. Vacation Pay

It’s important to distinguish between vacation time and vacation pay. Vacation time is the period an employee is entitled to take off work, while vacation pay is the money earned during that time. The ESA sets out minimum vacation time entitlements:

  • Employees with less than 5 years of employment:
    • 2 weeks of vacation time
  • Employees with 5 or more years of employment:
    • 3 weeks of vacation time

Employees must receive both their vacation time and vacation pay. An employer cannot provide vacation pay in lieu of vacation time unless the employee has agreed in writing and the Director of Employment Standards has approved the agreement.

Vacation Pay for Part-Time and Casual Workers

Part-time and casual employees are also entitled to vacation pay. The same percentages (4% or 6%) apply to their gross wages, regardless of the number of hours worked. However, their allocated vacation time may be adjusted proportionally based on the hours worked compared to a full-time employee.

Vacation Pay During Leaves of Absence

Employees continue to earn vacation pay during most statutory leaves of absence, including:

  • Pregnancy and parental leave
  • Sick leave
  • Family responsibility leave
  • Bereavement leave
  • Family caregiver leave

During these periods, vacation pay accrues based on the wages the employee would have earned had they not been on leave.

Vacation Pay on Termination

When an employment relationship ends, whether through resignation, dismissal, or retirement, the employer must pay out any accrued vacation pay that hasn’t been taken. This payout should be processed within seven days after the employment concludes or on the following payday whichever comes later

Common Concerns and Best Practices

Record Keeping: Employers should maintain detailed records of vacation pay earned, paid, and taken for each employee.

Vacation Policies: Employers should establish clear, written vacation policies that outline how vacation time and pay are earned, calculated, and provided. These policies should be communicated to all employees and consistently applied.

“Use It or Lose It” Policies: While employers can encourage employees to take their vacation time, “use it or lose it” policies that result in employees forfeiting earned vacation pay are generally not permitted under the ESA.

Vacation Pay for Commissioned Employees: For employees who earn commissions, vacation pay must be calculated on the total earnings, including commissions.

Vacation During Probationary Periods: Even if an employee is on probation, they start accruing vacation pay from their first day of work.

Waiving Vacation Time: While employees can agree to waive their vacation time with the employer’s agreement and approval from the Director of Employment Standards, they cannot waive their right to vacation pay.

Vacation Pay on Overtime and Public Holiday Pay: Vacation pay must be calculated on total wages, including overtime pay and public holiday pay.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Failing to comply with vacation pay requirements can result in serious consequences for employers, including:

  • Orders to pay employees any vacation pay owed.
  • Administrative monetary penalties.
  • Prosecution under the ESA, which can lead to significant fines.

Moreover, disputes over vacation pay can damage employee morale and lead to increased turnover, making compliance not just a legal obligation but a sound business practice.

Speaking with a professional

While this blog provides an overview of vacation pay in Ontario, employment situations can be complex and may require specific legal advice. If you’re an employer unsure about your obligations or an employee who believes your vacation pay rights have been violated, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.

At Sultan Lawyers, our team of experienced employment lawyers can provide guidance on vacation pay issues, help draft compliant policies, and represent clients in disputes related to vacation entitlements.


Understanding and properly managing vacation pay is critical for maintaining a fair and compliant workplace. By following the guidelines set out in the ESA and implementing clear policies, employers can avoid legal issues and foster positive relationships with their employees. For employees, knowing your rights regarding vacation pay ensures you receive the compensation you’re entitled to under the law.

Don’t leave your vacation pay rights to chance! While this guide offers valuable insights, your unique situation deserves personalized attention from seasoned professionals. Contact, Sultan Lawyers, online or call 416-214-5111 now to schedule your consultation. Don’t wait – protect your rights and maximize your entitlements.