Holidays for businesses and their employees aren’t always the same, and that always brings questions from employers, business operators and consumers on what can be open, what can’t be, and what legal obligations exist between management and staff. We’re happy to share the following information as a reference guide for local business.
IMPORTANT: Businesses may be affected by a variety of legislation. Labour legislation, such as the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA), or the federal equivalent, will be a consideration for all businesses while retail, service, hospitality and related businesses must also consider the provisions of the Retail Business Holiday Act and its affect on the ability of a business to be open to the public.
What are the public holidays here?
From a business perspective, the answer depends on whether the business is governed by federal or provincial labour law. For example, many in the transportation, banking and communications fields are regulated under federal law which has slightly different provisions than Ontario law. Since most local businesses are the subjects of Ontario law, the information summarized here is based on the laws of this province.
The Province of Ontario recognizes nine paid public or “statutory” holidays every year:
Of these holidays, some are observed strictly on a specific date no matter what day of the week they happen to fall on. New Year’s, Canada Day, Christmas and Boxing Day are observed as they occur. Family Day occurs on the third Monday of February. Good Friday is perhaps the most confusing to calculate as the date is fixed according to the lunar cycle each year. The Victoria Day holiday is the first Monday before May 24th and Labour Day is always the first Monday in September. Thanksgiving Day is always the second Monday in October. A few other peculiarities occur around such dates as Easter Monday and Remembrance Day. They may affect the operation of schools, banks, some levels of government and a few collective agreements in unionized workplaces but they are not general business holidays. One other exception remains: Civic Holiday. Observed on the first Monday each August, this date is not a statutory holiday, is unique to Ontario, and not is affected by provisions of the Retail Business Holidays Act. It is for this reason that various retail establishments often open on the date featuring sales or special promotions.
For a comprehensive guide to Ontario’s ESA, consult the Ontario Ministry of Labour website: www.labour.gov.on.ca
The Ontario Government’s electronic laws website is another extensive reference resource covering Ontario law: www.e-laws.gov.on.ca
Businesses may also be affected by other pieces of legislation such as The Retail Business Holidays Act or the Ontario Human Rights Code. Chamber Members should also understand that changes are often made in legislation. Periodic reviews are recommended.
Can a business or service be open on a holiday?
Not all statutory holidays are business holidays. The differences occur in the Christmas season.
The Retail Business Holidays Act (RBHA) affects retail businesses plus some service and hospitality businesses on a total of nine public holidays each year. Retail stores (excepting a small number that qualify for an exemption) must be closed on the following days:
The provisions of the Retail Business Holidays Act (RBHA) may be a source of confusion for some business. The RBHA requires businesses to be closed on Christmas Day, December 25, and New Year’s Day, January 1; but, in 1996, the rules changed concerning Boxing Day.
Legislation passed in Ontario in December 1996 allows stores to be open on Boxing Day, regardless of what day of the week it may fall. This legislation has been challenged and tested in the courts and resulted in a Supreme Court decision confirming it as fully legal in December 2000.
On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day all businesses affected by the RBHA must close unless they qualify for an exemption. Exemptions apply for small stores under 2,400 square feet, with a maximum of three employees, where food, tobacco, antiques or handicrafts are sold. Further exemption from the RBHA includes, car and boat rentals, servicing and repairing of vehicles or boats and the sale of gasoline. Pharmacies, laundromats and (flower) nurseries with gardening supplies are also exempt from closing requirements. Additional information regarding exemptions may be found on the Ontario Government website: www.labour.gov.on.ca. December 26 was removed from the RBHA’s list of holidays when stores must be closed under this Act. However, in some areas, local municipal or regional bylaws also are in effect and prohibit businesses from opening, or restrict hours of operation. At present, the City of St. Thomas and adjacent municipalities including Central Elgin, Aylmer and Southwold have no such special by-law in place and businesses may be open if they so choose. For information on any other Ontario municipality, the Chamber advises placing a call to the Clerk’s Office of the municipality in question.
The Province of Ontario has no laws which govern or limit hours of retail operation, although The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario regulates the service and sale of alcohol beverages. Establishments licensed to sell alcoholic beverages may provide services only between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., except on New Year’s Eve, when they may remain open until 3:00 a.m. It is up to the establishment to decide if it will sell alcohol for the entire period allowed.
Beyond legal considerations of opening and closing, businesses must also consider their obligations to employees. Boxing Day, for example, is still considered a public holiday and special provisions regarding rates of pay and/or time off work apply. The Ontario Ministry of Labour, Employment Standards Branch, can provide details. Staff at the London office may be reached by calling 519-439-3231 or 1-800-531-5551. The RBHA is administered by Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. Additional information may be found at this website: http://www.sse.gov.on.ca/mcs/en/pages/business_retail_holidays.aspx
Violation of RBHA allows fines to charged: a minimum of $500 for a first offence, $2,000 for a second offence, and a minimum of $5,000 for the third and subsequent offences. At the discretion of the court, guilty businesses may be fined up to $50,000 or the total amount of gross sales for the day.
The Ontario Government operates an information centre staffed by personnel familiar with provincial services and programs. The office serving our region is located in London at 659 Exeter Road. Telephone 519-873-400 or toll-free 1-800-267-8097. Office hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
For any additional information on the Retail Business Holidays Act, the Employment Standards Act, or any Ontario legislation affecting business, the St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce recommends Members contact the General Inquiry Unit of the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services in Toronto. Telephone 1-800-268-1142 or 416-326-8555.
Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of the Retail Business Holidays Act or other provincial legislation may place an order with Publications Ontario at 1-800-668-9938.
St. Thomas, Central Elgin & Southwold including Port Stanley, Belmont, Shedden, Fingal, Talbotville, Sparta and Union
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