Northern Exposure

Employers required to give employees time off to vote

By Stefan Kimpton

It’s almost election day in Canada. On October 19, Canadians will head to the polls to elect the new federal government. Employers with employees in Canada should be aware of their obligations on election day.

Time off to vote

Under the Canada Elections Act, voting hours are as determined by time zones. The time zones and voting hours are:
• Eastern: 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
• Central, Atlantic, or Newfoundland: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
• Mountain: 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• Pacific: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

All qualified electors (Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years of age on election day) are entitled to three consecutive hours to cast their vote. If an employee cannot have three consecutive hours to vote because of work, an employer is required to provide time off for voting.

For example, an employee works in Ottawa, located in the Eastern time zone. His or her working hours on election day are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In this instance, the employer is not required to provide the employee with time off from work. This is because the employee has three consecutive hours, after the completion of the workday, to vote in his or her time zone.

However, if the employee’s work hours on election day are from noon to 8 p.m. in the Eastern time zone, his or her employer would have to grant time off to allow this employee at least three consecutive hours to vote. In this example, the employer could allow the employee to arrive at 12:30 p.m. to give him or her three consecutive hours to vote (9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Alternatively, the employer could allow the employee to leave work at 6:30 p.m. to give him or her three consecutive hours to vote (from 6:30 until 9:30 p.m.). The employer could also give three consecutive hours during the workday.

The employer has the right to decide the time an employee is able to take off work in order to cast his or her vote. Employers can choose the most convenient and least disruptive time to allow their employees three consecutive hours to vote.

Some exceptions exist for individuals working in the transportation service industry (land, air, or water). If an employee works in the operations of a means of transportation for a company that transports goods or passengers, and works outside of his or her polling division, an employer would not have to provide time off to allow the employee three consecutive hours to vote if this would interfere with the transportation service.

Payment of wages

If an employer is required to provide time off in order for an employee to have the opportunity to vote, the employer cannot make deductions from wages or impose a penalty on the employee.

If an employee works on an hourly basis or on piece-work, the employer cannot pay the employee less than he would have had the employee not been entitled to three consecutive hours to vote. Otherwise, the employer will be deemed to have made a deduction from the employee’s pay contrary to the Canada Elections Act.

Regardless of how an employee is paid, the employer cannot make deductions or pay an employee less based on the fact that the employee was entitled to three consecutive hours to cast his or her vote.

Penalties

Employers who do not respect their obligations on election day can face serious penalties.

Employers may be forced to pay a fine of up $2,000 and/or face up to three months imprisonment if they fail to allow an employee to have three consecutive hours to vote or if they makes deductions from an employee’s wages as a result of an employee being entitled to three consecutive hours to vote.

If an employer interferes in providing time off to an employee to vote by intimidation or undue influence, the employer could face a fine of up to $50,000 and/or five years imprisonment.

Let the voting begin.