On September 20, 2021, Canada goes to the polls. It is important for employers to be aware of their obligations under the Canada Elections Act, SC 2000, c 9 (the "Act"), and the rights of employees to have time away from work to cast their votes in the federal election.
Three Consecutive Hours to Vote
All employees who are Canadian citizens and 18 years of age or older are entitled to have three consecutive hours off work on election day during voting hours to cast their ballots. Time off with pay must be provided, at the convenience of the employer, to the extent necessary to allow three consecutive hours for voting.
In Manitoba, polls are open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. In Saskatchewan, Alberta and those portions of British Columbia using Mountain Time, polls are open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. In the remainder of British Columbia, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Employees are not entitled to additional time off if their regular work schedule already allows for three consecutive hours during the time that the polls are open. However, where an employee does not have three consecutive hours before or after work while the polls are open, the employer must allow the employee to have time away from work to vote.
Employer May Select Three Consecutive Work and Non-Work Hours
The employer can decide when to allow the time off – for example, by allowing the employee to start later or leave early. The following examples illustrate the obligations of employers based on the polling hours in Saskatchewan and Alberta:
- Employee A works from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The employer has no obligation to provide time off from work because there are three consecutive hours after the end of the employee's work day when the polls are open.
- Employee B works from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The employer can either allow the employee to start at 10:30 a.m. or leave work a half hour early at 4:30 p.m. If neither of those options is appropriate in the circumstances, the employer must allow the employee to have off three consecutive hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
In Manitoba, an employer should allow the employee to leave at 5:30 p.m. In most of British Columbia, an employer should allow the employee to leave at 4 p.m.
Employers May Not Deduct Pay or Impose Penalties for Time Off to Vote
The Act prohibits an employer from deducting pay or imposing any penalty by reason of the employee's absence during the allotted three hours. As a result, no employer may pay employees less than the amount the employee would have earned on polling day if they had continued to work during the time allowed for voting, regardless of whether the employee is paid on an hourly, piece-work, salaried or any other basis.
Exception for Transportation Employees
For employers in the transportation industry, the obligation to provide sufficient time for voting does not apply if the following four circumstances exist:
- the employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
- the employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation;
- the employee is employed outside his or her polling division; and
- the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.
Employers should be mindful of the upcoming federal election and implement any necessary schedule changes in advance of September 20, 2021.
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.