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Employee entitlement to time off on federal election day

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It is election time once again!  In just a few short days millions of Canadians will be rushing to the polling stations to cast their votes to determine Canada’s next Prime Minister.

With October 19, 2015 just around the corner, we felt it was a good time to remind both employees of their rights and employers of their obligations when it comes to voting. The rules described below are all pursuant to the Canada Elections Act (the “Act”).

Three Consecutive Hours for Voting

Simply put, an employer is obliged to ensure that their employees have three consecutive hours to vote. However, this does not mean an employee may take three hours off from their normal work day.

Though the hours differ slightly by time zone, Ontario’s polling stations are open from 9:30am to 9:30pm. This means that an employer would not be obliged to provide any additional time off for an employee whose regular work day is from 9am to 5pm because such an employee would have greater than three consecutive hours to vote after their shift.

Time Off is at the Discretion of the Employer

Where an employee does not have three consecutive hours free from work to vote, an employer is obliged to provide time off. However, the employer has the discretion to choose when their employee will take that time. For example, if an employee works from 9am to 7pm, the employer may have a preference to allow the employee to leave thirty minutes early as opposed to the employee taking three hours off during the middle of the day.

Reducing Requests by Employees on Election Day

An employer may be able to increase workplace attendance on voting day by circulating advance polling information. The Act specifically states that a voter is entitled to have three consecutive hours off on polling day for the purpose of casting his or her vote. This implies that an employee who has voted by advance polling would not subsequently be entitled to take additional time off on polling day. However, it is important to note that an employee is fully entitled to forgo advanced polling and request three consecutive hours on polling day.

No Deduction in Pay or Penalty for Taking Time Off

Employers are not allowed to penalize their employee for exercising their right to vote. Furthermore, they are not allowed to deduct pay for taking time off in accordance with these rules.

If an employer penalizes an employee or does not allow for three consecutive hours to vote, they could face fines of up to $2,000, three months imprisonment or both for each such violation.

Transportation Employees Exempt

An exemption from the above-noted rules applies to employers in the transportation industry. However, for the exemption to apply, all of the following conditions must be met:

  • The employer transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
  • The employee is employed outside his or her polling division;
  • The employee operates a means of transportation; and
  • The additional time required to give the employee three consecutive hours to vote cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.

David Witkowski

About the Author: Toronto Employment Lawyer David Witkowski is the newest member of the Rubin Thomlinson team.