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2011 Federal Election: Are Employers Obliged to Give Employees Time Off to Vote?

Practice Areas: Human Resources Support

Employers may be unaware that they have obligations to their employees in respect of the upcoming May 2, 2011 federal election. 

Under the Canada Elections Act all Canadian citizens 18 years of age and older as of the date of the election are qualified electors and have the right to vote.  Most qualified Ontario electors that are employees will be in an electoral district operating on Eastern Time which means their voting hours are between 9:30am and 9:30pm.  Where the employee has (3) consecutive hours to vote outside of working hours during the 9:30am to 9:30pm window they will not be entitled to time off work for voting purposes.  Note that voting hours vary with each time zone (Eastern: 9:30am to 9:30pm; Central Atlantic or Newfoundland: 8:30am to 8:30pm; Mountain: 7:30am to 7:30pm; Pacific: 7:00am to 7:00pm).

Where an employee’s hours of work do not allow for three (3) consecutive hours to vote they will be entitled to paid time off work and the employer must not make a deduction or impose any penalty to an employee that wishes to vote. In fact, the employer must pay their employee full pay for the day even though the employee was not at work for all of their regular working hours.  

Importantly, where the employee is entitled to time off work to vote the employer has the right to decide when in the day to give that time off in order to ensure the employee has the three (3) consecutive hours to vote.

The following scenarios should help clarify employer rights and obligations during a federal election:

A)   A qualified elector working in Brampton, Ontario has voting hours between 9:30am and 9:30pm.  If the employee works from 11:00am to 7:00pm her hours of work would not allow her three (3) consecutive hours to vote.  To provide the employee with her three (3) consecutive hours the employer could allow her to arrive late (at 12:30pm), let her leave early (at 6:30pm) or give her three (3) hours off at some point during the work day.  Again, the employer is entitled to choose any of the above arrangements but no matter the selection the employee will be entitled to the full pay she would regularly receive for her 11:00am to 7:00pm shift. 

B)   A qualified elector working in the City of Toronto has voting hours between 9:30am and 9:30pm.  If the employee works from 8:30am to 6:00pm his hours of work would leave him 3.5 hours after his working day in which he could cast a vote before polls close.  Since this worker has at least three (3) consecutive hours outside of work to vote the employer has no obligation to provide him with time off work to vote. 

Employers that fail to provide time off for voting when required to do so or reduce an employee's pay where the employee has been provided time off can receive a maximum penalty of $1,000, three months imprisonment, or both. Moreover, it is an offence for an employer to use intimidation, undue influence, or any other means to interfere with the granting of time off to vote. Should this conduct occur the employer may be subject to a maximum penalty of $5,000, five years imprisonment, or both.   

Note: Employers in the transportation industry will not need to provide three (3) consecutive hours off work to vote where: 

  • the employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
  • the employee is employed outside his or her polling division;
  • 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.

    Please feel free to contact any of the lawyers at CCP if you have specific questions regarding your obligations as an employer on Election Day.

    Please Note: This blog has been prepared as an informational service for our clients and other interested parties.  It is not intended to constitute legal advice, a complete statement of the law or opinion on any subject.  Although we endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the content, no one should act upon the information provided without a thorough examination of the law after the facts of a specific situation are fully considered.


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