In light of the upcoming federal election – currently scheduled for October 21, 2019 – this is a timely reminder for employers on their statutory obligations to provide employees with time off from work so that employees may exercise their constitutionally-protected right to vote on polling day. Voter eligibility under the Canada Elections Act, or in French, la Loi électorale du Canada (the “Act”), is restricted to Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years of age.[1]

On polling day, electors are allowed three consecutive hours for the purpose of casting their vote during the following hours:

  • Newfoundland: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Atlantic: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Eastern: 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
  • Central: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.[*]
  • Mountain: 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.[*]
  • Pacific: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

[*] In Saskatchewan, voting hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

If employees’ hours of work do not allow them three consecutive hours of time to go and vote during these hours, the employer must provide them with time off so that they are allowed three consecutive hours to vote on polling day.[2] That said, scheduling employees’ time to vote during work hours is done so at the convenience of the employer.

In other words, if an employee has three consecutive voting hours that fall outside of working hours, an employer does not have to provide time off to vote. Where working hours and voting hours overlap such that the employee does not have three consecutive hours off to vote, an employer may only have to make minor adjustments to create that three-hour window. Take, as an example, Eastern time where, as noted above, voting is from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. If an employee works from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., he or she has three consecutive hours not at work during which the polls are open. In this case, the employer is unaffected. But, hypothetically, if an employee works from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., then the employer can choose what is most convenient for it and advise the employee that the employee may leave 30 mins early with pay that day to get to the polls. Doing so will provide the employee three consecutive hours. That may be much less costly option for the employer than say allowing the employee a 3 hour window in the morning and showing up for work at 12:30 p.m.

Under the law, no employer may make a deduction from the pay of or impose a penalty to an employee for lawfully taking time away from work to vote. Moreover, the Act specifically prohibits employers from interfering, by intimidation, undue influence or by any other means, with an elector’s right to have three consecutive hours to vote on polling day.

Employers who do not comply with the above-noted requirements run the risk of facing significant fines or imprisonment, or both.

Additionally, some workplaces may have either HR policies or (in unionized workplaces) a collective agreement that provides for an even greater leave entitlement than the minimum stipulated under the Act. If in doubt, check with your HR department.

[1] Canada Elections Act, SC 2000, c 9.

[2] This does not apply to employees of a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water who are employed outside their polling division in the operation of a means of transportation, if the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.

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