It’s the Most Puzzling Time of the Year – how to figure out which days are paid holidays and which are not!

To celebrate a holly, jolly Christmas, you need to have money.  Or at least be able to count on which holidays are paid, and which are not.  

Is Christmas Eve a holiday? 

No. In fact some retailers’ desire to squeeze last minute profits around Xmas is a catalyst for forcing store employees to work late on Christmas Eve.  You should know there is no premium pay for working later hours on Christmas Eve. (see Robert Devet, in the NS Advocate story, “I’ll be home late for Christmas,” )  

xmasHow do you earn money for the holidays, if you don’t know which ones are paid??

However, some services like the library and government offices tend to close early so workers have part of the afternoon and the full evening off.  And some businesses, including restaurants and bars tend to close earlier than usual.  Unions often negotiate only a half-day of work on Christmas Eve, sometimes with pay for the full day.

What about Christmas Day?  

Christmas day is a ​’​general​’​ holiday in Nova Scotia; it’s also a ​’​retail closing day.​’​That means most businesses and offices must be closed. Everyone is entitled to the day off with pay but you must have worked 15 of the last 30 calendar days, and you must work your last scheduled shift before, and your first scheduled shift after Christmas Day.  If your normal day off falls on the holiday, you get another day off with pay.

If you work at a gas bar, a restaurant, a bar or a pharmacy or other business exempt from closing, you may have to work on Christmas day.  If you do work that day, you must be paid a) the normal amount of pay you would receive for the day, plus b) one and a half times your regular rate of pay for the hours you actually work on that day.

What?? Here is an Example:  Let’s say you normally work 8 hours a day throughout the year. And let’s say your boss asks you to work 6 hours on Christmas Day In that case you get paid a) holiday pay of 8 hours, and b) 1 ½ times your hourly rate for the 6 hours, .  If you earn $12 an hour:  you’ll get 8 x $12= $96. Plus 6 x $12 x 1.5 = $108.  That’s $96 + $108 = $204 in total for working Christmas Day.

If you are a member of a trade union, your union has likely negotiated the day off with pay for you. If you work for a unionized employer, and you have to work that day, your collective agreement will spell out the details. In unionized workplaces, sometimes non-union staff get what unionized colleagues get.

Is Boxing Day a holiday?  

The answer is yes, and no.  The day after Christmas is a ​’​retail closing day​’​ but not a ​’’general​ holiday’. That means, most people get the day off, but they don’t get paid for it! If you do have to work at the gas bar, or the restaurant on Dec. 26, you will get paid straight time only – there is no extra holiday pay for working Dec. 26.

Of course if you are in a union, your union has probably negotiated Boxing Day as a paid holiday – so you will be paid for the day off. 

In NS, most stores must be closed Dec. 25 and 26.  It is Dec. 27, when the after-Christmas sales start and when retail workers resume normal work.

What about New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day? 
Shops, restaurants and bars tend to be open late on New Year’s Eve.  It is not a holiday and you can be asked to work later than you want to work.  In NS, New Year’s Day (Jan. 1) is a ‘general holiday’ and also a ‘retail closing day’ (like Christmas Day). If you’re not in a union, you’ll get the day off with pay – only if you’ve worked 15 of the last 30 calendar days, and you worked the last scheduled shift before, and your first scheduled shift after New Year’s day.  If Tuesday (New Year’s Day) is your regular day off, you should get another paid day off. 

If you are covered by a union agreement, you’ll get the day off with pay. 

As I’ve noted before, NS Labour Standards tends to favour employers.  That is why the day after Christmas is nota paid holiday (except if you are a union member). If you are confused by all of this, drop me a line at

Judy Haiven is also on the Steering Committee of Equity Watch, a NS organisation dedicated to fighting discrimination, racism and bullying in the workplace.



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