The 4 Ways Vacations Are Commonly Paid

Vacation pay is one of those areas in payroll where there are great variations between employers. These include variations in the vacation pay rate, the number of vacation weeks provided, the earnings on which vacation pay is accrued and when vacation time and pay are given. Some employers don’t accrue vacation pay at all and others accrue time not dollars. This article summarizes all these differences into the four basic ways that employers commonly process vacation pay in Canada.

Paid Each Pay Period

The first method doesn’t involve an accrual at all. Each pay period, employees are paid the vacation pay owing on the vacationable earnings paid in that pay period. This is the simplest method of processing vacation pay and is often used for casual or hourly employees whose earnings vary from one pay period to the next. For example, paying vacation pay on every pay cheque means employers do not have to carry a liability for vacation pay on their balance sheets. It also has the advantage of avoiding paying vacation pay on vacation pay, in those jurisdictions where vacation pay is itself an earning on which vacation pay would otherwise be accrued. However, from the employee perspective, it has the disadvantage that no actual vacation or other earnings are received when vacation time is later taken.

Paid Vacation Time

Paid vacation time means employees are paid their regular salary or wages while off work on vacation. This amounts to salary continuance, to the extent that some employers don’t even bother to show vacation pay as a separate item on the pay statement. Paid vacation time is commonly used for employees on a fixed salary or for hourly-paid employees who work a set number of hours. Under this method employers often seed the vacation time entitlement – measured in hours or days – at the start of every year and then reduce this entitlement as employees take vacations. Apart from this seeding, paid vacation time means employers don’t have to otherwise formally accrue vacation pay. However, any time not taken will still have to be reported as a liability on audited financial statements.

If paid vacation time is provided to employees who also receive exception pay, such as bonuses or sales commissions, employers will have to ensure the employment standards minimums have been met at the end of every vacation entitlement year. For example, an employee whose base salary is $52,000 a year is given 3 weeks paid vacation. If the employment standards require vacation pay at 4% and the employee had vacationable exception pay in excess of $26,000, 3 weeks paid vacation would not meet the minimum requirements: $52,000 plus $26,000, at 4% is $3,120, whereas 3 weeks base salary is only $3,000.

Accrued Hours/Pay Current

This method means employers accrue vacation owing based on time, rather than as dollars. For example, for employees entitled to 2 weeks of vacation time and whose regular work hours are 80 in a bi-weekly pay period, an employer might accrue vacation entitlements as 3.25 hours earned in every pay period, to an annual maximum of 80 hours. When vacation time is taken in the subsequent year, it’s paid out as 80 hours at the employee’s current rate. Just as for paid vacation time, when time is accrued, rather than dollars, employers must ensure that the current, regular pay for the time taken meets the applicable employment standards minimums. For example, these may not be met if hourly pay rates are reduced or if employees have vacationable exception pay, such as overtime (overtime is not vacationable in all jurisdictions). This method also means employers have to keep accurate records of employee vacation time entitlement balances, additions to this each pay period and any reductions for time taken or for time entitlements cashed out.

Accrued Hours/Pay Balance

When vacation pay dollars are accrued, based on vacationable earnings in a vacation entitlement year, employers have to track the balance owing at the start of each such year, the vacationable earnings paid or vacation pay accrued during the year and any vacation pay either cashed out or paid when vacation time is taken. When audited financial statements are required, any vacation pay accrual balances have to be reported on these as a current liability.

Where the employment standards provide an additional week after completing 5 years of consecutive employment (after 6 years, under the federal Canada Labour Code, and after 10 years in Saskatchewan), there is a difference between accruing vacationable earnings versus the resulting vacation pay. For example, in BC, after completing 5 years of service, employees are entitled to vacation pay at 6%. Note, it’s the vacationable earnings during the 5th year that have to be paid out at the higher rate after the 5th year has been completed. As such, a best practice is to accrue vacationable earnings and only apply the appropriate percentage on payment.

Instead, if vacation pay is accrued, this means a vacation pay percentage was applied to vacationable earnings as work is performed. Yet, in jurisdictions where an additional year may be required, the amount of vacation pay owing is determined by the number of completed service years at the time of payment. This means either accruing the higher rate before it has been earned or having to adjust the accrual once the applicable entitlement year has been completed.

Alan McEwen is a Vancouver Island-based HRIS/Payroll consultant and freelance writer with over 20 years’ experience in all aspects of the industry. He can be reached at, (250) 228-5280 or visit for more information. This article was first posted to Canadian HR Reporter on September 17, 2013.


About Alan R. McEwen

HRIS/Payroll consultant and freelance writer
This entry was posted in Best Practices, Employment Standards and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The 4 Ways Vacations Are Commonly Paid

  1. Cliff says:

    I work two weeks on and two weeks off, vacation pay is paid biweekly on my pay . Am I still entitled to vacation time

    • Yes, you’re always entitled to vacation time, just not in your circumstances paid vacation time. Any vacation time you would take would be unpaid.

    • Yes, you’re always entitled to take vacation time, just not in your circumstances paid time off. Since you get your vacation pay each time you are paid, any vacation time you take would be unpaid.

    • Cliff, you would always be entitled to take vacation time, just not in your circumstances paid vacation time.

      Since you get paid your vacation pay on every pay, any vacation time you take would be unpaid.

      Alan R. McEwen

      Alan McEwen & Associates

      250-228-5280 In the Pacific time zone

  2. Dave says:

    As part of my salary in Ontario I receive

    regular salary
    flat monthly car allowance
    RRSP matching
    Gas, personal gas paid for
    health insurance

    I have 10 days that will need to be paid out when I leave later next month. What components of my compensation will need to be paid out?
    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    • Dave,

      Am I correct in understanding that you have 10 days of accrued or unused vacation owing to you when your employment ends?

      You haven’t said how you are paid: semi-monthly, bi-weekly or monthly.

      Of the items you list below, some would be prorated if your employment ends during a pay period, and not at its end:

      Proration would apply to your regular salary * Health insurance coverage is by the month, so any related premiums or taxable benefit would not be prorated * Re-imbursement for gas, RRSP and phone would likely be prorated, i.e, gas reimbursements limited to your period of employment * It would really depend on what your contract of employment says, for your monthly car allowance.

      Alan R. McEwen

      Alan McEwen & Associates

      250-228-5280 In the Pacific time zone

  3. Phoenix Bunting says:

    With their vacation pay out amount, do you have to add the vacation accrued time to the final regular amount. For example: I accrued; 35.63 hrs for pay out for Final pay. DO I add the vacation accrual that is made to that amount? 35.63 x 0.0577 (formula for 3 weeks vacation) = 2.05 hours more that would be added to the 35.63 + 2.05 = 37.68 ==== My new final hours pay out would be 37.68. Or do I simply add the 35.63 x $18.00 = 641.34 x 4% vacpay or would be 641.34 x 6% vac pay seeing how 6% is equal to 3 weeks of vacation days. ?? Asking for a friend!! 😀

    • First, it depends if you’re in a jurisdiction where vacation pay is itself vacationable, i.e., BC, or not, i.e., Ontario. If vacation pay is vacationable, then the vacation pay out has to be added to the gross that is subject to the vacation pay calculations for that period. In other words, if 35.63 are the regular hours owing, at $18.00 = 641.34 x the vacation pay % that applies.

  4. Phoenix Bunting says:

    Vacation 3 weeks (full time staff) does their accrued vacation time need to have their proper vacation percentage added to their final vacation pay out? Asking for a friend,.

  5. Lisa says:

    Hi Alan,
    I am getting vacations paid as you described it under “Paid Vacation Time”. The employer writes full vacation days (15days) on the cheque on January 1st of each year.
    If I quit my job or get fired in June does the employer have to pay me full 15 days or only 7.5 days? I would really appreciate your help on this one.


    • Lisa,

      It really depends on what your terms and conditions of employment say.

      If it says something like, “you will be credited with 15 paid vacation days each January 1”, and “if you terminate without taking all your credited vacation days”, these will be paid on your last pay cheque”, then yes you’re probably entitled to the full 15 days.

      However, if these say something like “if you terminate before earning all the vacation days credited to you, you will only be paid for the vacation earned, not credited”.

      Most likely there isn’t anything this specific in your terms and conditions of employment. If this is the case, you might want to approach a labour lawyer. This area of the law changes a lot based on case law, so its hard to predict what your rights might be if your employment contract isn’t specific.

      Alan R. McEwen

      Alan McEwen & Associates

      855 Berwick Road South, Qualicum Beach, BC V9K 1R3

      250-228-5280 in the Pacific time zone

  6. Ann says:

    If I owe 2 weeks vacation pay and their weekly pay to an employee, do I calculate it together, thus having deductions on all of it together (takes off a lot of income tax) and pay on one cheque or is to be done separately and paid with a second cheque?

    • Ann, are you going to pay this person a single direct deposit or cheque for the 2 weeks?
      Probably, the best thing, depending which employment standards apply, is that you just pay this person the vacation pay owing each week, just as if they were working. In other words, you pay them twice, once for each week of vacation or once for each weekly pay period.

      • Ann says:

        The employee is working, so he gets his regular pay, so I was wondering if the two weeks of vacation go on that cheque too, or a second cheque given for the vacation pay.

    • Oh, you mean you are just paying out the accrued vacation pay without the person taking time off? You realize that this isn’t permitted in most employment standards jurisdictions. But if that’s what you intend, you should try to pay this using what is called the bonus method. Ask your payroll software or service bureau support person, if you’re not sure how to do this in the system you are using.

      • Ann says:

        He took his 2 weeks off, in the summer, but because he had not worked a year, we only owed him the vacation pay now, after a year of work. I go online to the payroll deductions calculator to find out the deductions which a bonus is an option. So I cannot do two separate cheques is that correct.

      • Ann, it doesn’t really matter whether the pay owing for the 2 weeks of vacation are paid on a separate cheque or together with this person’s pay for his regular weekly earnings. The main thing is that you should use the bonus option on the CRA Payroll Deductions Online Calculator to calculate the income tax owing using the bonus method. The other thing to keep in mind is that for ROE purposes, the 2 weeks of vacation pay have to be reported against the time taken over the summer, not to the pay period this is being paid now. Normally, if an employer is letting a person take vacation time before it is earned, the vacation pay for that time is paid when the time is taken, even it hadn’t been fully earned, since as you say he hadn’t been there a full year.

  7. Zubia says:

    I’m still trying to understand this example:
    “For example, an employee whose base salary is $52,000 a year is given 3 weeks paid vacation. If the employment standards require vacation pay at 4% and the employee had vacationable exception pay in excess of $26,000, 3 weeks paid vacation would not meet the minimum requirements: $52,000 plus $26,000, at 4% is $3,120, whereas 3 weeks base salary is only $3,000.”

    Looking at it, $3,120 is more than the 3 weeks base salary of $3,000. So how does it not meet the minimum requirements?

    • By ‘paid vacation’ I mean the person get’s their regular pay for the time taken. In the example, above, the regular pay for 3 weeks would be $3,000. But if the vacationable earnings are $78,000 (52,000 plus $26,000), the requirement at 4% is $3,120. In other words, there are 2 separate requirements, which may be calculated separately – time and money. Here the regular pay for 3 weeks doesn’t meet the money requirement.

  8. Yes, that’s right. How the employer pays out the vacation dollars owing doesn’t change the requirement for employees to be given and take vacation time.

  9. Tina says:

    Hi Alan,

    In reference to “Vacation Paid with Each Period”, there is still an obligation to ensure that employees take their vacation time, is that correct (Ontario). i.e. paying out vacation pay does not eliminate this responsibility (many of our employees are reluctant to take vacation “time”). We are currently accruing vacation pay, but are looking into the possibility of paying it out with each cheque, if the employee is in agreement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.