Canadians are headed to the polls for a general election on October 21, 2019. As is the case with provincial elections, employers have certain obligations to permit employees who are qualified electors (Canadian citizens over the age of 18) to vote in federal elections. These obligations are not always understood, particularly by employees who may mistakenly believe they have a right to time off with pay even if their schedules permit them to vote without missing work.
The Canada Elections Act contains the following requirements for employers on Election Day:
Consecutive hours for voting
132 (1) Every employee who is an elector is entitled, during voting hours on polling day, to have three consecutive hours for the purpose of casting his or her vote and, if his or her hours of work do not allow for those three consecutive hours, his or her employer shall allow the time for voting that is necessary to provide those three consecutive hours.
Time at convenience of employer
(2) The time that the employer shall allow for voting under subsection (1) is at the convenience of the employer.
(3) This section and section 133 do not apply to an employee of a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water who is employed outside his or her polling division in the operation of a means of transportation, if the additional time referred to in subsection (1) cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.
No penalty for absence from work to vote
133 (1) No employer may make a deduction from the pay of an employee, or impose a penalty, for the time that the employer shall allow for voting under subsection 132(1).
Hourly, piece-work or other basis of employment
(2) An employer who pays an employee less than the amount that the employee would have earned on polling day, had the employee continued to work during the time referred to in subsection 132(2) that the employer allowed for voting, is deemed to have made a deduction from the pay of the employee, regardless of the basis on which the employee is paid.
134 No employer shall, by intimidation, undue influence or by any other means, interfere with the granting to an elector in their employ of the three consecutive hours for voting, as provided for in section 132.
To summarize, the key requirements for most employers are:
- An employee who is a qualified elector must have three consecutive hours off during the time that polls are open in which to vote.
- If an employee requires time off during the workday to vote, the employer cannot reduce the employee’s pay or otherwise penalize the person for taking the time off.
- If the employee requires time off during the workday to vote, the employer chooses when this time shall be taken, not the employee.
Polls are typically open for 12 hours on Election Day (the exact time varies locally). For many employers whose employees work a normal eight-hour business day, this means that the employee is likely to have all or most of the three consecutive hours off to vote without having to change the work schedule.
For employees who work longer hours or irregular shifts, the employer may have to provide some or all of the three consecutive hours off work during working time. Nevertheless, the employer maintains the right to choose when and how the employee will receive the time off to vote.
For example, if polls are open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (as they typically are in Ontario and Quebec), and an employee is scheduled to work from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the employer might be able to comply with the Canada Elections Act in a number of different ways. These could potentially include permitting the employee to:
- commence work at 12:30 p.m. (giving the employee from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to vote);
- take three hours off during the workday to vote (e.g., allowing the employee to take three hours off from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.); or
- leave work early at 6:30 p.m. (giving the employee from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to vote).
The obligation to provide time off does not apply to employees in the transportation industry, who are not entitled to time off to vote if they are employed in the operation of a means of land, air, or water transportation; if they are employed outside their polling division; and if the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.
Regardless of the work schedule and how conflicts are resolved, it is an offence for employers to fail to provide time off for voting if required under the Canada Elections Act. It is also an offence for an employer to reduce an employee’s pay when the employee has been provided time off to vote. The maximum penalty for violating these prohibitions is a fine of up to $2,000, three months imprisonment, or both.