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THE QUESTION

My friend works at a travel agency. Part of her job is to accompany about 25 clients on an annual cruise.

She is responsible for ensuring the clients, many of whom are elderly, have the correct documentation, get to the airport on time, assist with any issues relative to boarding, and so on. She is also responsible for any problems that arise during the cruise, including health-related issues.

Her employer believes she should use her own vacation time, because her travel and accommodation costs are covered. I believe it is work and not a "free holiday" and that she should be paid accordingly.

What are her rights? Should she be paid regular wages for this?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

This scenario is a perfect example of why it is important to know all the ramifications of a job, from day one.

When you go about your daily routine and tasks in a regular work environment that is one thing. When you are working 'off-site' you need to know if the same conditions to your employment apply.

Everybody wants to feel like they are respected, appreciated and compensated fairly for the time, effort and expertise they put into their job.

When you are dictated as to where you will spend your vacation time and told 'by the way, you must work part or all of the day as needed as well,' that is not the definition of a vacation.

You may want to seek legal counsel on this matter or any other requests from your employer that seem untenable and out of the norm.

Getting yourself to any long haul destination and back is a nightmare, let alone managing a group of strangers and all their peculiarities. A reality check is required by the management toward their employees.

Your friend needs to do some research with other agents at different agencies to see what the standard is in the industry.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Natalie MacDonald and Stuart Rudner

Co-founders of Rudner MacDonald LLP, Toronto

While your friend's employer might consider this to be a paid vacation, the reality is that your friend is expected to work while she is on the cruise. Simply put, it is not a vacation if an employee is expected to be available and carry out work-related functions.

Whether an individual is working in their office, warehouse, coffee shop, conference centre, or on cruise ship, if they are working, then it does not count as vacation time.

This question is not unlike one that arises more frequently in relation to employees who attend conferences as part of their employment. Though the employer might pay for their airfare, accommodations, food and drink, if they are attending the conference as part of their employment, and particularly if they are required to do so by their employer, then the time is considered to be time at work and not on vacation.

The employer cannot have the luxury of having the employee work but not being paid, particularly when there is a need for having staff on site (or on the cruise) to ensure efficient and effective operations.

Simply put, the employer cannot have its cruise buffet and eat it, too.

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