Several workers of a high-profile company say they were pressured into giving up paid vacation days, then told to lie about it on their timecards — or risk job losses during the height of the pandemic.
In an internal company video provided to Go Public, Franklin Holtforster — president and CEO of Ottawa-based Colliers Project Leaders — asks employees to “surrender” vacation time if they want to save their own jobs and those of their coworkers.
“I’m asking everyone to work a full week and to record an additional eight hours of vacation onto your time sheet every week in April and May,” Holtforster says in the video released to employees on April 24.
“This reduces our compensation costs and permits us to avoid mass layoffs … Now if we all surrender a bit of future vacation, we can keep our co-workers and ourselves employed.”
Holtforster tells Go Public the project management company tried other ways to cut costs — reducing expenses and compensation for dozens of managers by up to 20 per cent — before asking workers to voluntarily give up vacation days.
WATCH | Holtforster asks employees to give up vacation days:
Go Public spoke with a number of employees; all had similar experiences and all say they don’t believe it was voluntary.
One employee tells Go Public workers who refused to give up vacation days were pressured by managers to change their minds — and their timecards — receiving frequent calls from higher ups, asking if they planned to comply.
“It’s not a choice … there’s so much fear that if you don’t do this, you’re going to lose your job,” said the employee, who works on infrastructure and revitalization projects for the company.
“The scary part is if you’re going to get fired, say next week, you have no vacation time to show.”
Go Public is not identifying the workers who contacted us, as they fear losing their jobs.
According to two employment lawyers Go Public spoke with, it’s against provincial labour laws to take away or reduce vacation time that’s required by law and to produce false or misleading vacation time records.
Another insider said many workers were afraid to complain or refuse the request, especially given the impact of COVID-19 on the job market.
“I know that a lot of my colleagues are struggling,” said the employee.
“Any colleagues that haven’t been here a year are now in the negative” — meaning they have given away so many vacation days they owe the company time.
The pandemic has hammered companies and workers, according to the latest Statistics Canada numbers. The survey found from February to April, three million Canadians lost their jobs during. An additional 2.5 million remained employed but worked less than half their usual hours.
“In two months alone, that’s more job losses than we’ve seen in the last three recessions…