Can the boss change my vacation schedule?

QUESTION:  With my boss’s approval I had scheduled my third week of vacation for this year over the Christmas/New Year period. Yesterday she told me my vacation was cancelled as a result of business volumes and other staff being off at that time. I scheduled this time off months ago and it seems very unfair to me to have it suddenly yanked.  Can she do this? If I insist on taking the holiday despite her objection can she fire me?
ANSWER:  Yes she can, on both counts.
The employer has absolute discretion as to when holidays are scheduled. Everyone is entitled to a minimum of two paid weeks off per year pursuant to the Employment Standards Act. Those weeks cannot be scheduled in less than one-week blocks without your consent. If this had been only your second week off in 2009 you might have a little bit more leverage, but not much.
Remember, that if you are not in a union your employer does not need any reason, never mind a good reason, to terminate your employment. The only question then becomes whether or not you are entitled to any notice. In your situation, given that this is your third week and not part of the two-week minimum, if you absent yourself from the office without your employer’s consent you could be terminated upon your return without any notice. Assuming the employer made it perfectly clear that you were not allowed to be away, you would be guilty of willful misconduct and there would be just cause for your termination without notice.
If we were talking about your second week of your two-week minimum, you could still be fired but you could probably get a severance package.
While you are still absent without permission, if the employer had cancelled your second week of vacation, she would have violated the minimum standards of the Employment Standards Act. Arguably, you would simply be enforcing your minimum rights and that’s not just cause for termination. It would still mean that you are looking for work in January.
The punchline is this: unless you are independently wealthy or have another job lined up, then you are going to have to play Bob Crachit and show up for work during the holidays.
As published in the Hamilton Spectator, November 30, 2009
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809