Many employers may be unaware that they have obligations to their employees in respect of the upcoming October 21, 2019 federal election, in terms of providing time off to vote.  We summarize below the specific obligations of employers as set out in Canada’s Elections Act.

Time off to Vote

Canada's Elections Act provides that, on Election Day, employees are entitled to have three consecutive hours during which the polls are open in order to vote.  Employers should note that this does not mean that every employee is entitled to three hours off during their normal daily schedule.

Employees who have three consecutive hours of their own time available during polling hours are not entitled to additional time off to vote.  For example, if the polling location at which the employee intends to vote is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., an employee working a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or a 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift would not require time away from the office to vote.

On Election Day, polls may have varying hours, so employers can and should inform themselves of the polling hours for any polling location at which an employee intends to vote whenever they receive a request for time off. 

If, however, an employee does not have three consecutive hours available in which to vote on Election Day, the employee must request time off from the employer.  The Act does not prescribe the time frame in which employees are required to make the request for time off, therefore, employers may receive requests with very little lead time.  Once the time off is requested, it must be allowed by the employer.  Employers should note that the employee is not allowed to dictate which hours they can have off. Once requested, and provided that the employee does not have three hours of their own time free in which to vote, the employer can decide timing that is convenient to its particular workplace requirements.

Unionized employers will also want to clarify any time allotment provided in collective agreements in case it is more generous than that provided by the Act.

Additionally, only persons who are qualified to vote are entitled to time off to vote.  To qualify to vote on October 21, a person must:

  • be 18 years of age or older; and
  • be a Canadian citizen.

Finally, employers are not permitted to make any deduction from the pay of any employee or impose any penalty due to the employee's absence from work during the consecutive hours that the employer is required to allow under the Act.  Employers who fail to provide time to vote, or who deduct pay from employees who take time off to vote, are liable to a fine of not more than by a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to three years, or both.  Further, using intimidation, undue influence or any other means to prevent eligible employees from having three consecutive hours to vote is an offence punishable by a fine of up to $50,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

It should also be noted that there is an exception for Transportation Companies: where the employee is operating a means of transportation outside their polling division, the employer does not have to provide time off to vote if such time cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.