HR tips

Ask HR: Can employers force employees to use vacation time?

Up next in our Ask HR series, Sherweb's HR experts answer this question: can employers force employees to use vacation time?

The summer season is upon us! In this time of sun and heat, it’s natural to start thinking about summer vacation and time off.

Annual time off banks represents the amount of paid time off earned by employees according to provincial legislation. This allowance can also be topped up according to an organization’s vacation policy.

For the sake of preventing professional fatigue and burnout, eliminating negative impacts on productivity, and above all promoting worker engagement, all employees, regardless of their position, need vacation time. In short, time off brings direct and indirect benefits to everyone in an organization. Luckily, it’s not often the case that we have to force employees to use vacation time. It’s a benefit we all love!

To get the maximum benefit for both your business and employees, it’s strongly recommended to allow employees to select their own vacation periods as much as possible. Of course, this will depend on business needs and staffing levels needed. It’s helpful to establish and communicate these needs and minimum staffing levels for each department at the beginning of each vacation year. Once this is communicated, you can invite employees to schedule their annual vacations on the calendar, keeping these needs in mind.

Now, for the exceptions. While it’s preferred that you give employees the chance to choose when to take their vacation time, there are some reasons this may not be possible. These include a period of time when your industry shuts down, an anticipated drop in the volume of business, or liquidation of vacation balances at the end of a reference year. For these reasons, it sometimes turns out that the employer must grant “targeted vacation periods’’ even though the employee has not specifically requested time off.

In Canada, the legislation allows an employer to determine vacation time for an employee at the employer’s discretion under two essential conditions:

  1. The employee must be given official notice of the upcoming vacation. This notice, usually in number of weeks, varies from one province to another. It is therefore important to consult the requirements related to the legislation applicable to your province of business in order to ensure compliance in regard to employer obligations.
  2. The granting of targeted vacations by the employer must be free from any discrimination against the concerned employees.

On a financial note, vacation balances are accrued and acquired sums that may be owed to employees. Sound management of organizational time off is therefore closely linked to sound financial management of this accrued time belonging to your employees.

Thus, in order to encourage the understanding of time off as the benefit that it is (and to prevent having to force employees to use vacation time), the best practice is to have a sound organizational vacation policy. This should be clearly communicated across your organization and include the terms of eligibility, increases, carryover, splitting, payment, and the process of selecting annual vacations.

Have a good summer season!

Véronique Paré is the Human Resources Director at Sherweb

The Ask HR series is created in partnership with Sherweb, a leading cloud solutions provider. Sherweb’s HR team will be using their expertise to answer your questions related to time off, onboarding, remote work, employee engagement, and all things workplace culture. If you have a question for them, please send it to us at

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