By Daniel Sorensen
Are your employees entitled to have time off in order to vote in the upcoming federal election? You may be surprised to hear that the answer is often yes.
Under the Canada Elections Act, any employee that is eligible to vote is entitled to have up to three consecutive hours away from work in order to cast their vote on election day. Poll hours will vary by time zone, but in every riding polls will be open for voting for 12 hours. In most of British Columbia, the polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.
So how does this work in practice? It is best explained using an example. If polls are open from 7 am to 7 pm, and an employee is scheduled to work 10 am to 6 pm, then the employee is not entitled to any further time off because the employee has three consecutive hours to vote from 7 am to 10 am before starting work. However, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9 am to 5 pm, then the employer can provide the employee with his or her three consecutive hours for voting by doing one of the following:
- allowing the employee to start at 10 am so that he or she has three consecutive hours to vote from 7 am to 10 am;
- allowing the employee to leave early at 4 pm so that he or she has three consecutive hours to vote from 4 pm to 7 pm;
- changing the employee’s scheduled hours of work to give him or her three consecutive hours to vote either before or after work; or
- giving the employee three consecutive hours during the work day to vote.
Fortunately, where an employee is entitled to time off for voting, employers have the right to decide when an employee gets that time off.
It is important to note that employers are not allowed to reduce the pay of an employee or otherwise penalize an employee for taking time off for voting. As such, an employer must pay an employee what he or she would have earned during the time allowed off for voting.
Employers who do not comply with the Canada Elections Act can be penalized. Such penalties can include a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment for up to three months.
There is one exception to this law. It does not apply to employers in the transportation industry where all of the following are true:
- the employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
- the employee is employed outside his or her polling area;
- the employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation, and
- the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.