With the next provincial election scheduled for October 6, 2011, we are writing to remind employers of their obligations under the Ontario Election 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, upon request, must allow the employee enough time off to provide those three consecutive hours to vote. 

The voting hours on election day will be from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time.  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 an employee is scheduled to work from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., an employer could provide for the three consecutive hours by allowing the employee to leave work a half hour early, at 6:00 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 Ontario Election Act also provides for unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who wish to serve as returning officers or poll officials.  The Act does not limit the duration of such leave but does state that any employees seeking such a leave must make their request at least seven days before the leave is to begin.

The penalty for preventing an employee from voting, impeding or otherwise interfering with an employee’s right to vote is a fine of up to $5,000.  If an employer is convicted of this offence and a judge finds that the offence was committed knowingly, the employer will be liable to either a fine of up to $25,000 or imprisonment up to two years less a day or both.

While the law requires that employees must request time off to vote, it does not specify how much notice an employee must provide.  Therefore, employers are encouraged to keep their employees’ right to time off to vote in mind when scheduling their hours of work for October 6, 2011, to ensure that they are not inundated with numerous last-minute requests that threaten to seriously disrupt their operations.