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Career Advice Can my employer force me to use all my vacation days each year?


I am based in Alberta. Having been with the company a long time, I am entitled to five weeks' paid time off (PTO). The company forces us to take all of five weeks in a calendar year otherwise we lose these days off. Is this legal in Alberta as well as other provinces? My company has employees across Canada.


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Laurie Robson

Partner, BLG, Calgary office

The short answer is that annual vacation is intended to be used in full each year so that employees can take a paid rest from work.

Special rules may apply to certain jobs or industries.

In some provinces (Alberta is an example) your employer can tell you when you will take your vacation and you must take it then.

Whether it is "legal" to lose your earned vacation time (or vacation pay) is another matter.

Answering this question requires consideration of:

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  • Legislation – either provincial employment/labour standards laws. There isn’t a universal vacation law that applies to provincially regulated employees across Canada. For federally regulated employees, the Canada Labour Code applies to all.
  • Your employment contract. This may be a collective agreement for unionized employees; an employment offer letter or contract;
  • The workplace vacation policy.

Whether you must use all your vacation time each year or risk losing it is assessed with all three factors in mind. If your employer insists on you using up your time, do it – that is why you earn vacation pay.

Enjoy the downtime!


Gabrielle Nydam

President, Contiki Canada

It's far too common to hear of employees feeling overwhelmed when the end of the year approaches and they've realized they can't use all their vacation.

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Many Canadians forgo time off due to limited time to plan and having too much work to get done.

Having five weeks, for most of us, is a real blessing. Take advantage of the time.

Studies show travelling has major benefits for one's well-being, including making us happier and more productive at work afterwards.

You don't need to take all five weeks in one go. Instead, break them up during the calendar year.

It's also up to employers to create an office culture that encourages breaks and time off, and makes it easier for their employees to unwind – especially their millennial staff.

Many studies show an overwhelming majority of millennials place time off as a priority in their search for work-life balance. Time away from work can help you cope with stress as well as reset the mind.

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Easy ways to encourage vacations are to make Thursday the new deadline day and to schedule meetings for mid-week in order to keep Mondays and Fridays guilt-free for getaways.

Another idea is to conduct quarterly vacation check ins. Have your manager incorporate vacation-status in reviews. This is a great way to remind employees to plan vacation in advance instead of scrambling to cram all five weeks into the end of the year.

Being able to step away from work from time to time will ultimately lead to a more engaged work force, and a healthier you.

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