On each occasion of a federal election, questions arise about the right of an employee to have time free from work in order to vote. The following is our summary of the requirements. In some cases, it may be possible to get an advance ruling on a specific question from the Chief Electoral Officer.
1. Staggered Voting Hours
The hours of voting on election day at a general election have been staggered so that the majority of results are available at approximately the same time across the country.
The information below from Elections Canada indicates the time Polls open and close, in local time, for each time zone in Canada.
Newfoundland Time: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Atlantic Time: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Eastern Time: 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Central Time*: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Mountain Time*: 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Pacific Time: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
*In Saskatchewan, when daylight saving time is in effect for the rest of the country, voting hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (local time).
2. Eligibility to Vote
The Elections legislation provides that electors are entitled to time off for voting purposes. In order to be an elector, the Canada Elections Act requires that a person is 18 years of age and a Canadian citizen. The below requirements apply only to those employees who also qualify as electors.
3. Consecutive Hours Off for Voting
Each elector is entitled to have three consecutive hours free of work duties to vote. An employer may not by intimidation or undue influence seek to interfere with an employee being granted these hours off to vote.
4. Timing of Hours Off for Voting
The time allowed for absence for the purpose of voting is “at the convenience of the employer” so can be allowed at the beginning, middle or end of a shift. If normal work hours don't allow three consecutive hours free from work, the Employer is obliged to allow the employee the time off so that in conjunction with time otherwise free from work there is additional time allowed which, together, totals three consecutive hours.
5. Employees May Elect Not to Take Hours Off for Voting
Allowing time off means permitting without penalty or interference - it does not mean that the employer has to close the doors or send the employee away. If the employee declines the opportunity to leave, it is not an offence to permit the employee to remain at work. If the employee does not take the full three hours, the employer should be prepared to demonstrate that remaining at work was the employee's choice and was not as a result of any interference by the employer.
6. No Pay Deductions Can be Made for Hours Off on Election Day
There shall be no deduction from the regular pay of an employee because of absence from the workplace to vote during normal hours on election day. Thus, if the normal hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a half hour off for lunch, a Pacific Time Zone employer should allow the employee to leave at 4:00 p.m. in order to meet the time requirement (three hours prior to the 7:00 p.m. closing of the polls). The employee must be paid for the time from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. as if the employee were at work. If the employer asks the same employee to start a half hour early, the employee would be entitled to pay for that early half hour, i.e. from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. AND would also be entitled to pay for the time missed during the regular shift i.e. 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
7. Employer Must Not Interfere With the Right to Hours Off for Voting
It is an offence to make a deduction or interfere with an employee's right to the three hours free from work to vote. If the employee takes time off to vote, then failure to pay the employee the full amount the employee would have earned for the day if the normal hours had been worked is a deduction. These offences are subject to a fine of $1000, three months imprisonment, or both.