The next federal election is taking place in Canada on October 21st.
Most employers are aware that employees are entitled to take time off on election day to cast their ballot, however, many employers (and employees) are unsure how the rules work. This post will take a quick look at the rules and hopefully provide some clarity.
The Canada Elections Act provides that employees (with a few limited exceptions) are entitled to have 3 consecutive hours to cast their ballot on the day of a federal election. Many employees think that this means they’re entitled to take 3 hours off from work. That’s usually not the case.
An employee will only be entitled to take time off to vote if their work schedule on election day doesn’t allow for them to have at least 3 consecutive non-work hours within which to vote.
Here are a couple of examples of how this works:
In Alberta, the polls are open to voters from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm in 2019.
- If an employee is scheduled to work from 8 am to 4 pm on election day, that employee has more than 3 hours after their shift (4 pm-7:30 pm) within which to vote. In that case, the employer is not required to provide any time off (paid or otherwise) for the purposes of voting.
- If an employee works from 9 am to 5 pm on election day, that employee would not have enough time before work to meet the 3 consecutive hour requirement (7:30 am to 9 am), nor would they have 3 consecutive hours after work (5 pm to 7:30 pm) within which to vote. In this situation, the employer is required to allow the employee some paid time off, so that the employee has 3 consecutive hours available to cast their ballot. The best option for the employer in this scenario (in terms of minimizing paid time off), would be to allow the employee to leave work 30 minutes early. The employee would then have 3 consecutive hours (4:30 pm to 7:30 pm) to meet the minimum requirements of the law.
Any time that the employer is required to provide off of work for voting purposes is required to be paid at the employee’s regular rate. In the second example above, that would mean 30 minutes of paid time off.
The employer is the one that gets to choose when the time is provided off, not the employee. Most often this will mean the employer will try to minimize paid time off, but they don’t have to.
In the second example above, the employer could allow the employee paid time off from 9 am to 10:30 am to vote. The employee would then have 3 hours, between 7:30 am to 10:30 am to meet the 3 consecutive hour minimum. The employee would have one and a half hours of total paid time off in this scenario.
Why does this matter?
The Canada Elections Act sets out significant penalties that can be levied against employers for failing to comply with the 3 consecutive voting hours requirement.
The fines can be as high as $50,000 and are in addition to potential imprisonment for up to 5 years. Although the chances of being fined or imprisoned for failing to comply are quite small, it’s always a good idea for businesses to comply with the law.
Hopefully, this provides you with some clarification regarding the rules. If you want to take a look at the rules directly, they can be accessed for free here (see section 132-134): https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/sc-2000-c-9/latest/sc-2000-c-9.html#Time_to_Employees_for_Voting__291331
If you have any questions about this or any other legal matters facing your business, feel free to get in touch.
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