On Monday, September 20, 2021, Canadians will return to the polls to elect a federal government. Pursuant to the Canada Elections Act (the “Act”), every Canadian citizen who is 18 years of age or older is entitled to three consecutive hours away from work while polls are open on election day in order to cast their vote.
Required Time Off from Work to Vote
As set out in the Act, the voting hours in Ontario begin at 9:30 am and end at 9:30 pm. If an employee’s work schedule is such that they would not typically have the required three consecutive hours within which to vote, the employer must provide the employee time off from work to the extent necessary to attain that minimum three-hour requirement.
In this year’s election, individuals may now choose from one of four voting options. An individual can vote by mail, vote at their assigned polling station on election day, vote on advance polling days between September 10th-13th, or vote at any Elections Canada office before September 14, 2021. Despite these changes to the voting options, employers must still comply with the minimum time off requirement for employees who choose to cast their vote on election day.
No Reduction in Pay
Employers may not deduct or reduce an employee’s pay as a result of being provided time off to vote and may not otherwise penalize an employee for exercising their right to vote. If an employee is required to work less than their regular hours on election day in order to be provided with the required time off to vote, the employee must nonetheless be paid as though they worked the full regular day of work.
For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm on election day, they would have only 2 ½ hours free from work before the polls close. In this example, the employer would most easily meet its obligation by permitting the employee to leave work one half hour early (at 6:30 pm) so that they are provided with the required three-hour block of time before polls close at 9:30 pm. However, employers may choose when to provide the three consecutive hours at a time most convenient for them. In the above example, if it were essential for the business that the employee be at work until 7:00 pm, the employer could, for example, permit the employee to come into work at 12:30 pm in order to satisfy its obligation under the Act.
Employers who operate a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water may not be required to provide a minimum of three hours off from work. Where an employee within this type of company is employed outside of their polling district while operating a means of transportation, and the employer cannot provide the minimum time off for voting without interfering with the transportation service, the employee is not entitled to the minimum required time off from work.
Employers of unionized employees should review their collective agreement, as it may contain a provision regarding the unionized employees’ right to time off to vote beyond the three-hour requirement set out in the Act.
Penalty for Non-Compliance
A violation of the requirement to provide three consecutive hours free from work without a deduction in pay may result in a fine of up to $2,000 or imprisonment for up to three months.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.