The Canadian federal election is just around the corner—Monday, October 21, 2019 (Election Day). The Canada Elections Act sets out the law regarding employees’ voting entitlements on Election Day, as well as employer obligations.
Employees are Entitled to Three Consecutive Hours to Vote During Voting Hours
Employees who are “electors” are entitled to three consecutive hours during voting hours to vote on Election Day. An “elector” is a Canadian citizen 18 years of age or older.
If an employee’s hours of work do not allow for these three consecutive hours, the employer “shall allow the time for voting that is necessary to provide those three consecutive hours.” This time for voting may be provided at the employer’s convenience. The employer may not make a deduction from the employee’s pay or otherwise penalize the employee for the time taken to vote. Furthermore, the employer cannot interfere with this right by using intimidation, undue influence, or any other means.
What Does This Mean for Employers in Practical Terms?
Voting hours are staggered on Election Day so that the majority of results are available at approximately the same time across the country. Employers should familiarize themselves with voting hours in all locations in which they operate.
If an employee’s work schedule allows for three consecutive hours off (i.e., if it begins three or more hours after polls open, or ends three or more hours before they close), the employer is not obliged to give any time off. If, however, the employee’s schedule does not allow for three consecutive hours off, the employer must allow the necessary time off with pay and without penalty.
For example, if voting hours are from 9:30am to 9:30pm and the employee is scheduled to work from 11:00am to 7:00pm, the employee will not have three consecutive hours off. To provide these three consecutive hours, the employer can allow the employee to begin work at 12:30pm or leave work at 6:30pm. Alternatively, the employer can give three consecutive hours off during the employee’s working hours. The employer has the right to decide when time off will be given.
Employees may waive their right to three consecutive hours off work to vote.
Employees who are not “Electors”
Employees who are not “electors” are not entitled to three consecutive hours off.
Transportation Companies in Specific Circumstances
The obligation to provide three consecutive hours off does not apply to employers in the transportation industry, provided:
- The employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
- The employee is employed outside their polling division;
- The employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation; and
- The time off work would interfere with the transportation service.
Penalties for Employers
Employers that contravene their obligations with respect to voting entitlements may be subject to penalties under the Canada Elections Act. In particular, employers that fail to allow time to vote, or make deductions from wages for time given to vote, face fines up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to three months, or both. Employers that prevent employees from using voting time by intimidation, undue influence, or other means face fines up to $50,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.