With the next federal election scheduled for May 2, 2011, we are writing to remind employers of their obligations under the Canada Elections Act.

By law, an employee who is eligible to vote must have three consecutive hours for the purpose of casting his or her vote. If an employee’s hours of work do not allow for those three consecutive hours, the employer must allow the employee enough time off to provide those three consecutive hours to vote. No employer is permitted to use intimidation, undue influence, or any other means to interfere with the granting of time off to vote.

For employers in the transportation industry, the obligation to provide sufficient time so that employees have three consecutive hours to vote does not apply if the following four circumstances exist: (i) the employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water; (ii) the employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation; (iii) the employee is outside his or her polling division; and (iv) the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.

The hours of voting on election day are staggered so that the majority of results are available at approximately the same time across the country. The voting hours are scheduled in twelve hour blocks as follows:

Click here to see table

Employers have the right to decide when during the day is most convenient for granting any necessary time off. Employees are not entitled to demand which hours they wish to be away from work.

For example, if the polls are open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and the employee is scheduled to work from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the employer could provide for the three consecutive hours by allowing the employee to leave work a half hour early, at 5:30 p.m. In this example, the employer is acting in accordance with the law while at the same time ensuring that the time off results in minimal disruption of the employee’s regular work day. It is also important to note that employers are not required to take into account an employee’s travel time to vote.

Employers may not make deductions from an employee’s pay, require the employee to take a vacation day or sick day, or otherwise impose any penalty for the time taken off work by an employee to vote.

The maximum penalty for failing to provide an employee with time off to vote or reducing his or her pay for time off to vote is a fine of up to $1,000, three months’ imprisonment, or both. The maximum penalty for an employer’s use of intimidation, undue influence, or any other means to interfere with the granting of time off to vote is a fine of up to $5,000, five years’ imprisonment, or both.

Since the law does not require that employees must request time off to vote, employers are encouraged to keep their employees’ right to time off to vote in mind when scheduling their hours of work for May 2, 2011.