Taking a vacation

Open suitcase packed for a holiday

Need a break from the daily grind? Fantasizing about sunny beaches and warm weather? Learn your entitlement to take a vacation from your job.

What you should know

There are three key factors that affect your right to take a vacation:

  • whether you’re covered by BC’s Employment Standards Act (the main provincial law that protects workers)
  • your employment contract
  • your employer’s needs

The Employment Standards Act sets out minimum standards for working conditions — including vacation — in BC. Most workers are covered. But not all are.

Workers who aren’t covered by the Act don’t have the same rights as workers who are. If you’re unsure whether this law applies to you, we offer guidance. See who’s covered by BC’s employment standards law.

The second factor in play is your employment contract. It may include terms saying how much vacation you’re entitled to.

Note there’s always an employment contract between a worker and employer, and it doesn’t need to be in writing. The terms could be expressed in an office policy manual or staff handbook, for example.

Here’s a key point: Your contractual rights can’t be any less than your rights under employment standards law. In other words, the terms in your contract around vacation can’t be less favourable than the terms set by law. If they are, you’re still entitled to the minimum standards under the law.

Your employer’s needs also affect your right to a vacation. Generally, your employer has the final say, and can schedule your vacation according to their business needs.

Workers covered by employment standards law are entitled to a minimum amount of vacation time after they’ve been in a job for 12 months.

The amount of annual vacation time you’re entitled to is:

  • at least two weeks, after 12 straight months of employment
  • at least three weeks, after five straight years of employment

These are legal minimums. If your employment contract says you get more, you’re entitled to that higher amount.

Generally, your employer can decide when you take your vacation.

During your first year on the job, you earn vacation time to be taken in your second year. So once you start your second year of work, you can take the vacation time you earned the year before.

Your employer needs to make sure you take your vacation time within 12 months of earning it. They must allow you to take it in blocks of one or more weeks (unless you agree otherwise, in writing).

Workers covered by BC’s employment standards law are entitled to vacation pay. Basically, it’s an amount to compensate you for the period you’re away on vacation.

There are minimum standards for how much vacation pay you’re entitled to.

If you’ve been in a job less than five years, your vacation pay must be at least 4% of your total wages during the year entitling you to vacation time.

After five straight years on the job, your vacation pay must be at least 6% of your total wages during the year entitling you to vacation.

If your employment contract says you get more, you're entitled to that higher amount.

You must receive your vacation pay at least seven days before you begin your vacation.

Or — if you agree in writing — you can receive it on your scheduled paydays. If you choose this option, you get a portion of your vacation pay on each pay cheque.

Either way, you’ll have access to the money you earned while you’re on vacation.

Work out the problem

If you think your employer is violating your rights to vacation time, consider these steps.

Step 1. Speak to your employer

Step 2. Write to your employer

Step 3. Make a complaint

Step 1. Speak to your employer

If you have a problem with your vacation time or pay, try raising the issue with your employer. Explain what’s on your mind, and describe your view of things.

Remember, it’s ultimately up to your employer when you take your vacation. (That is, as long as they ensure you take it within 12 months of earning it.) Stay flexible, and recognize you may not get your ideal dates.

Approaching your boss in person can be intimidating. We’ve got tips on how to do it. Check out our tips for talking with your employer.

Step 2. Write to your employer

If talking it over with your employer doesn’t do the trick, try writing a letter. (See our tips for writing to your employer.) Explain your concerns. Make it clear that you’d like to work together to find a solution.

Step 3. Make a complaint

If you don’t manage to resolve things with your employer, you can make an employment standards complaint. Workers covered by BC’s employment standards law can make a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch.

Our guidance on making an employment standards complaint explains the steps to take. (See making a complaint.)

If you want more on taking a vacation, you’re in luck! We have in-depth information on this topic. See taking a vacation.

Who can help

This agency can help if you’re denied the vacation time or pay you’re entitled to.

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
Administers the law in BC that sets minimum standards for workers.
Call 1-800-663-3316Visit website

Getting legal advice can help you decide on the best course of action.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Call 1-800-663-1919Visit website
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Call 1-877-762-6664Visit website
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People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in May 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Legal Content Team, People's Law School

Legal Content Team, People's Law School

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.


On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Time off work in the section on Work.

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