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Canadian employers must provide employees with paid time off to vote

Written by
Mathews Dinsdale, Canada’s only national labour and employment law firm.
In the wake of the Canadian election on 21 October 2019, this article sets out employers’ obligations relating to allowing employees paid time off work to vote.

Monday 21 October 2019 was Election Day across Canada, which provided a reminder that employers must provide employees with paid time off to vote in federal elections.

The Canada Elections Act (‘Act’) requires that all employees who are 18 years of age or older be provided with three consecutive hours during voting hours on Election Day to vote. The requirement to provide time off during Election Day is triggered when the employee’s scheduled work hours conflict with the local voting hours and prevent them from having three consecutive hours to vote.

Where the requirement to provide time off on Election Day to vote is triggered, the paid time off can be provided at a time during the day that is convenient to the employer, either at the beginning, middle, or end of the shift. If an employee has already voted in advance polls, they are not entitled to additional time off on Election Day.

The hours for voting vary across the country based on time zones. In Newfoundland, Atlantic, and Central time zones, the hours are 8:30 to 20:30. In the Eastern time zone, the hours are 9:30 to 21:30. In Mountain time zone, the hours are 7:30 to 19:30. For voters in the Pacific time zone, the polls are open from 7:00 to 19:00. For example, if an employee in Nova Scotia works from 9:00 to 17:00, no time off is required as there are three hours or more at the end of the day to get to the polls. If an employee in British Columbia works from 9:00 to 17:00, they are permitted to leave work at 4:00 in order to have three hours to vote before the polls close at 19:00.

Subject to collective agreement requirements, employers may vary the employee’s shift so that they can work a full day before going to vote. For example, an employer may require an employee to start their shift 30 minutes early so that they have three consecutive hours at the end of their shift to vote.

The Act provides exceptions for employers that transport goods or passengers by land, air or water.

Employers may not make any deduction from an employee’s pay because of the employee’s absence in order to cast their ballot. An employee is entitled to a full day’s pay, whether they are hourly or salaried.

Employers who withhold pay or interfere with an employee’s right to three hours of time off to vote could be subject to a fine of up to CAD 2,000, imprisonment for up to three months, or both. Using intimidation or undue influence to prevent employees from having three hours to vote is an offence under the Act punishable by a fine of up to CAD 50,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

Now that the Canadian Federal Election is over, the next election employers will have to consider are at the provincial level. Each Canadian province has similar legislation that applies to provincial elections. For example, the Ontario Election Act also requires employees have three consecutive hours off to vote.