Under the Canada Elections Act (“Act”), all Canadian employers (with some limited exceptions in the transportation industry) must ensure their employees have 3 consecutive hours free from work during opening hours for polls on election day. According to the Act, polls are open for each electoral district of Canada as follows:
- from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Newfoundland, Atlantic or Central time zone;
- from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Eastern time zone;
- from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Mountain time zone; and
- from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Pacific time zone.
However, it is important to recognize that employees are not entitled to a three hour break from work. Rather, it is only if an employee does not have three consecutive hours off already that an employer must accommodate them. Further, the scheduling of the employee’s time to vote is at the convenience of the employer, though, in certain circumstances, it is time that must be paid by the employer.
Ensuring employees have time off to vote while minimizing costs and disruptions to an employer’s business can be done in a number of ways, depending on the terms of the employment contract with the employee:
- If an employee’s contract permits his or her schedule to be varied according to the employer’s needs, the employer can adjust it to ensure the employee has 3 consecutive hours free to vote, without cost. For example, for an employee with a varying schedule that is supposed to work 9-5 on election day in British Columbia, the employer could ask him or her to work 10-6, or 8-4, to ensure he or she has 3 consecutive hours from work to vote.
- Alternatively, if the same employee is entitled to work 9-5 without adjustment by the employer, the employer could allow the employee to start at 10, or leave early at 4, but in either case would have to ensure the employee is paid for the full shift of 9-5.
- Though it is more costly, but depending on the nature of the employer’s operations, the employer could also allow an employee with a set 9-5 schedule to take 3 consecutive hours off in the middle of the day, all of which must be paid.
Overall, it is important to remember that, while adjustment to schedules may be made for employees who are subject to such terms in their employment agreements, the Act states and includes punitive provisions so that no employee is penalized or made to suffer a deduction in pay for voting.