Election Day is quickly approaching and eligible voters who haven't already cast their ballot by mail or at advance voting stations will be heading to the polls on September 20, 2021. Although it may as a surprise to some, the Canada Elections Act (the "Act") provides certain obligations for employers with respect to the federal election – specifically to provide eligible employees with paid time off to vote.

Time off to Vote

Pursuant to section 132 of the Act, on Election Day employees are entitled to three consecutive hours during which the polls are open in order to vote. This does not mean that every employee is automatically entitled to three paid hours off on Election Day – the requirement is only triggered in circumstances where the employee's scheduled working hours conflict with voting hours such that the employee does not have three consecutive hours available in which to vote. If an employee has already voted either by mail or in advance polls, they are not entitled to additional time off on Election Day; however, an employer cannot require that employees exercise either of these options in advance of Election Day.

If an employee is entitled to time off to vote, they are required to request same from their 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. That said, an employee cannot simply dictate which hours they will take off work and employers retain the right to determine what timing is convenient to its operational needs.

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.

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

Only persons who are qualified to vote (i.e. employees who are 18 years of age or older and Canadian citizens) are entitled to time off to vote.

Notably, the Act provides an exception to employers in the transportation industry if: (i)the company transports goods or passengers by land, air or water; (ii) the employee's work location is outside of their riding; (iii) the employee operates a means of transportation (such as a bus); and (iv) time off cannot be allowed without interrupting the transportation service.

Penalty for Non-Compliance

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. Employers also need to be aware that interfering in the granting time off work to allow an employee three consecutive hours to vote by intimidation, undue influence or any other means could result in a fine of up to $50,000, five years in jail, or both.

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.