It's election time once again in Ontario! The campaign has begun and election day is on June 2, 2022. In the days leading up to the election, questions often arise about employees' rights to time off work for voting or performing other election-related duties. This bulletin summarizes employee rights and employer obligations during Ontario's provincial election.
Generally, to be eligible to vote, an employee must be: (i) a Canadian citizen, (ii) who is 18 years of age on the day of the vote and (iii) a resident of Ontario.
Eligible voters in Ontario can vote by mail, at their returning office, during advance voting, or on election day.
Hours Free From Work to Vote
Under the Election Act, an employee who is eligible to vote has the right to three consecutive hours for the purpose of voting during the period the polls are open. Ontario's voting hours are 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).
The Election Act does not require an employer to provide time off work if the employee has three consecutive hours free from work during voting hours. For example, an employee who works from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST has a three consecutive hour period (between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. EST) to vote. So that employee need not be provided with time off work to vote.
Where an employee's hours of work do not allow for three consecutive hours to vote on election day, an employee may request and an employer must grant paid time off for voting such that the employee has three consecutive hours free from work during voting hours. The employer can't impose any penalty on employees who must be granted additional time off to vote. Subject to workplace policies and contracts such as collective bargaining agreements, this additional time to vote may be granted at a time that best suits the employer. For example, an employee who works from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST does not have three consecutive hours free from work during voting hours. If the employee requests time off to vote, the employer may permit the employee to start late at 12:00 p.m. EST, thus granting the employee a three consecutive hour period between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. EST to vote. The employer could also allow the employee to leave work early at 6:00 p.m. EST, granting the employee three consecutive hours to vote between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. EST.
Employers can encourage employees to vote early during advance polls or otherwise during their non-working hours prior to the June 2, 2022 election day. However, an employer cannot require an employee to vote prior to the election day. An employee who wishes to vote on election day is subject to the hours free from work rules.
Leave for Returning Officers and Poll Officials
The Election Act also grants an unpaid leave to an employee who is a returning officer or has been appointed to be a poll official if the employee requests the leave at least seven days before the leave begins. While there is no obligation for the employer to pay an employee while they are on this type of leave, the employer cannot dismiss or otherwise penalize the employee for requesting this leave, including by deducting days from their vacation entitlement.
The Election Act specifies that any person who, inside or outside Ontario, prevents another person from voting or otherwise interferes with that person's exercise of the vote is guilty of an offence and may be liable to a fine of up to $5,000. If the guilty individual knowingly committed the offence, the individual may additionally be liable for a fine of up to $25,000, up to two years less a day of imprisonment, 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.