The Provincial election is fast approaching, with election day set for October 24, 2020. Voting this year may look very different than in years past. Elections B.C. considered more than 160,000 absentee ballots in 2017, but media outlets are reporting that 35-40% of voters have expressed a desire to vote by mail this year, meaning there could be as many as 800,000 mail in ballots.
Nevertheless, there remains a significant number of individuals who will be voting in-person during either advance or general voting. Thus, it is timely to review an employer’s obligation to provide employees with time off from work to vote.
Time off Work to Vote
For Provincial elections, the BC Elections Act requires that all employees entitled to vote be provided with four consecutive hours free from work without loss of pay while polls are open, to vote on election day. Voting hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Pacific daylight time.
In the event an employee’s work schedule does not allow for four consecutive hours free from work during voting hours, the employer must provide the employee time off from work sufficient to ensure they have this four hour period. In addition, the employer must not deduct pay or exact any penalty for the time off from work.
The employer has the right to unilaterally schedule any required time off in whatever way is most convenient for the employer. For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the employer can decide whether to allow the employee to leave one hour early at 4:00 p.m. or to start work at noon in order to provide the four consecutive hours for voting purposes.
In the event an employee’s work schedule does not allow for four consecutive hours free from work during voting hours on election day, and the employee is willing to vote at an advance voting opportunity, that employee is entitled to time off work sufficient to comprise four consecutive hours during advance voting opportunities. An employee entitled to time off work for advance voting is not entitled to time off work for general voting on election day.
This year, advance voting will be available October 15 to 21, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Employers are encouraged to use these advance voting dates, and to work collaboratively with their employees, to ensure their employees have the opportunity to vote without disrupting business operations.
There are two notable exceptions to the requirement to provide time off from work. First, individuals employed in remote locations who would be unable to reasonably reach any voting place during voting hours are not entitled to time off for voting. Second, employers may decline to provide employees with time off work for voting if they have a reasonable justification for so doing. Given the importance of voting, employers should only rely on this exception where providing time off would risk employee or public safety or where there are other similarly important reasons.
Failure to provide time off work as required by the Elections Act is an offense that carries a fine of not more than $10,000 or up to 1 year imprisonment, or both.