'Tis the Season for Public Holidays

With the weather getting colder and the days shorter, many Canadians may be thinking about the upcoming winter holidays. Holidays may look different this year, but regardless of holiday plans, its important for employers and employees to understand their employment rights and obligations with respect to public holidays.

Basic Entitlements:

In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (the "ESA') outlines employees' basic public holiday entitlements.

Qualifying for Public Holiday Entitlements: The Last and First Rule

To qualify for public holiday entitlements employees must work their last regularly scheduled day of work before the public holiday and their first regularly scheduled day of work after the holiday. This is known as the "last and first rule". If an employee unreasonably misses either shift they may not be entitled to public holiday entitlements.

Additionally, if an employee agrees to work on a public holiday and fails without reasonable cause to work their shift, they may not qualify for public holiday entitlements.

Otherwise, there are no minimum requirements to qualify for public holiday entitlements. It does not matter how long the employee has worked or if they work part-time versus full-time.

Day Off and Public Holiday Pay:

Under the ESA, most employees are entitled to receive the day off work on public holidays and be paid public holiday pay.

Public holiday pay is calculated as all of the regular wages earned by the employee plus vacation pay payable to the employee for the four-week period before the public holiday, divided by twenty. For example, if an employee earns vacation pay on each paycheque, their public holiday pay would be calculated as:

  • Regular wages over 4-week period = $1,500
  • Vacation pay at 4% of regular wages = $1,500 x 4% = $60
  • Regular wages and vacation pay over 4-week period = $1,500 + 60 = $1,560
  • Premium holiday pay = $1,560 / 20 = $78

Given the numerous ways in which employees are paid, calculating public holiday pay can be complicated. For help estimating public holiday pay entitlements, check out the Ontario government's Public Holiday Pay Calculator.

Alternative Arrangements:

Substitute Holiday Day:

If a public holiday falls on a day that the employee is not ordinarily working or during an employee's vacation, the employee is entitled to receive another, substitute day off and public holiday pay for that substitute day. This substitute day off must be provided within three months of the public holiday, although with the employee's agreement that can be extended to 12 months.

Alternatively, the employer and employee can agree in writing that the employee will receive public holiday pay for the public holiday and no substitute day off.

Working a Public Holiday Day:

An employee can agree to work on a public holiday. In such a case, the employee is entitled to either:

  • Their regular wages for the hours worked on the public holiday day and a substitute day off with public holiday pay; or
  • If the employee agrees, public holiday pay plus premium pay for each hour worked on the public holiday day.

Premium holiday pay is calculated as 1.5 times the employee's regular rate of pay.

Exemptions and Special Rules:

There are numerous exceptions to the basic public holiday rules.

For example, in Ontario, the following businesses have special public holiday rules:

  • Hospitality establishments - including hotels, motels, tourist resorts, restaurants, and taverns
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Continuous operations - operations that do not stop or close more than once per week, such as an alarm monitoring company or oil refinery.

Additionally, employees may be excluded from public holiday pay entitlements due to their occupation or the industry they work in. In Ontario, these exemptions cover a wide range of employees, including designated professionals, firefighters, wilderness guides, and farmers, to name a few. In every case, employees and employers should consult with an employment lawyer to determine whether their occupation is subject to special public holiday rules.

2020/2021 Public Holidays:

Importantly, employees are only entitled to receive public holiday entitlements for days designated as "public holidays" under the ESA. The following are the 2020/2021 public holidays in Ontario:

  • Christmas Day - December 25, 2020
  • Boxing Day - December 26, 2020
  • New Year's Day - January 1, 2021
  • Family Day - February 15, 2021
  • Good Friday - April 2, 2021
  • Victoria Day - May 24, 2021
  • Canada Day - July 1, 2021
  • Labour Day - September 6, 2021
  • Thanksgiving - October 11, 2021
  • Christmas Day - December 25, 2021
  • Boxing Day - December 26, 2021


With the holiday season rapidly approaching, it is important to understand public holiday entitlements. Employees should take the time to learn about their public holiday rights, while employers are encouraged to develop a holiday policy that ensures all employees receive their minimum public holiday entitlements. In either case, Lee Workplace Law would be happy to answer any questions you may have about public holidays.