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September 30, 2019

Are Your Employees Entitled to Time Off Work to Vote in the Upcoming Federal Election?

Authors Amelia Cooke and Domenica Moran

With Canada’s federal election only three weeks away, employers should confirm whether any employees will need time off work to vote on election day. Whether an employee is entitled to time off work to vote will depend on the employee’s hours of work and the voting hours in the time zone in which the employee resides.

Employees Must Have Three Consecutive Hours Outside of Work to Vote

The Canada Elections Act (the “Act”) governs federal elections and requires employers to give employees who are qualified to vote (i.e. Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years old) time off work to vote on election day.

Per the Act, employees who are qualified to vote must have three consecutive hours to vote on election day. However, that requirement does not give every employee the right to take three hours off work on election day. Rather, employees are only entitled to the minimum amount of time off work required to ensure they have at least three consecutive hours outside of work to vote. Some employees may not be entitled to any time off work to vote because their work schedule already provides them with three consecutive hours outside of work to vote. Others might be entitled to as little as a half an hour or as much as three hours of time off work to vote.

An employee’s entitlement to time off work to vote will depend on how their hours of work coincide with the voting hours in the relevant location. The voting hours are determined by time zone and are set out below.

Voting Hours for Each Time Zone

Time Zone

Voting Hours

Newfoundland

8:30 am to 8:30 pm

Atlantic

8:30 am to 8:30 pm

Eastern

9:30 am to 9:30 pm

Central*

8:30 am to 8:30 pm

Mountain*

7:30 am to 7:30 pm

Pacific

7:00 am to 7:00 pm

*Please note that the voting hours may vary in Saskatchewan when daylight saving time is in effect for the rest of Canada. Please refer to Elections Canada for more information.

Scheduling Time Off Work to Vote

If an employee is entitled to time off work to vote, the Act allows employers to decide when it will provide the time off work to vote.

No Reduction of Pay or Penalty for Taking Time Off Work to Vote

Per the Act, an employer cannot reduce an employee’s pay or impose a penalty for taking the allowable time off work to vote. The employer must pay the employee the amount the employee would have earned on election day had the employee continued to work during the time they were off work to vote. Moreover, it is an offence for an employer to interfere with granting employees time off work for voting, whether by intimidation, undue influence, or other means. Penalties for employers who violate the Act include significant fines and/or imprisonment. 

Exceptions

Please note that certain employees of transportation companies (i.e. companies that transport goods or passengers by land, air or water) are exempt from the entitlement to consecutive time off work for voting if the additional time cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service. For more information on this exemption, please refer to section 132(3) of the Act.

Application of the Time Off for Voting Requirements

To illustrate how the Act applies, consider the following scenarios.

Scenario 1 - Amir

Work Location: Toronto

Regular Hours of Work: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Voting Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

In this scenario, Amir is not entitled to any time off work to vote because he has at least three consecutive hours outside of work to vote (i.e. from 5:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.).

Scenario 2 - Hana

Work Location: Halifax

Regular Hours of Work: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Voting Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

In this scenario, Hana does not have three consecutive hours outside of work to vote. To comply with the Act, Hana’s employer has several options for ensuring she has enough time off work to vote, namely:

  • allowing her to start work later (i.e. at 11:30 a.m.);
  • allowing her to leave work early (i.e. at 5:30 pm); or,
  • allowing her to take three consecutive hours off at some point during her shift.

Regardless of which option is chosen, Hana must be paid at least the amount she would have earned on election day had she continued to work during the permitted time off work to vote. Therefore, if Hana started work half an hour late on election day (i.e. at 11:30 a.m.) in order to vote, she must be paid for the day as if she had worked during that half hour period (i.e. from 11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.).

Other Elections

The Act sets out the requirements for federal elections. Each province has its own laws setting out voting requirements for provincial/municipal elections.

Takeaways

Review the voting hours in your area and your work schedules for October 21, 2019 to ensure your employees have enough time off work to vote in the upcoming federal election.

The foregoing is for informational purposes only and should in no way be relied upon as legal advice. For legal advice tailored to your circumstances and business, please contact any of SOM LLP’s lawyer’s by email or telephone.

 

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