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Canada’s new public holiday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation


Canada has a new statutory holiday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is to be observed each year on September 30. While September 30, also known as Orange Shirt Day, has been observed for some time to honour Indigenous Peoples and to commemorate the legacy of the residential school system in Canada, 2021 will be the first year when the day will be a statutorily-mandated day off work for some workers.

The new public holiday is a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ s Call To Action No. 80.

Is my employer obliged to give me the day off work?

Only federally-regulated employers governed by the Canada Labour Code are required to give their employees a paid day off work on September 30. If you work in one of the following fields, you are most likely a federally-regulated worker and your employer will have to give you September 30 off, with pay (with exceptions, discussed below):

  • Banking
  • Marine transportation
  • Air transportation, including airports
  • Railway and road transportation that involves crossing provincial or international borders
  • Telephone and cable systems
  • Radio and television broadcasting
  • Businesses dealing with the protection of fisheries as a natural resource
  • Many First Nation activities
  • Most federal Crown corporations
  • Private businesses necessary to the operation of a federal act

The collective agreements of most or all federal public servants, as well, require that the new public holiday be granted to federal public servants.

In recent weeks, some provincial and territorial governments including British Columbia, Yukon, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories have stated that they will observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. While some provincial and territorial public servants will get the day off, and schools will be closed in some cases, the day will still not be considered a paid statutory holiday in those provinces and territories, or any other province or territory, as of the time of posting. That means that it will be up to employers in the provincially-regulated private sector as to whether they provide the day off to employees.

The government of Ontario has stated that it will not observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this year.

I’m a federally-regulated employee, but my employer is not giving me September 30 off – what can I do?

As with all federal holidays, federally-regulated employers are not, strictly speaking, obliged to give all their employees the day off. However, if an employee does work on the holiday, their employer generally must pay the worker holiday pay (roughly, the amount that the worker made in an average day in the month preceding the holiday), and additionally must pay the employee one and one-half times their regular wages for the time worked on the holiday.

As well, federally-regulated employers may be able to replace holidays, under certain conditions. By way of example, a workplace could choose to recognize Family Day (which is not a federal holiday) instead of another holiday. However, an arrangement to substitute holidays must be agreed upon by the union representing the workers (if there is one), the affected employee, or at least 70% of a group of affected employees.

If your employer fails to properly recognize a federal statutory holiday, recourse may be available to you, including through a labour standards complaint with the federal Labour Program, or a grievance if available.