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Polls & Paychecks: Employers required to provide paid time off for Canadian federal election

It’s almost time to vote! With the federal election on October 21, 2019 quickly approaching, employers should familiarize themselves with their obligation to provide employees with paid time off to vote on election day.

The Canada Elections Act provides that all employees who are “electors” are entitled to have three consecutive hours off work on election day for the purpose of voting. An “elector” is defined as a Canadian citizen that is 18 years of age or older.

If an employee’s hours of work do not allow for that employee to have three consecutive hours off during voting hours, the employer must allow the employee to take paid time off necessary in order to ensure three consecutive hours for voting. The employer is entitled to determine when during the day to provide the time off. If the employee’s schedule allows for three consecutive hours to vote outside working hours, the employer is not required to give the employee time off during the employee’s shift.

The voting hours for the upcoming federal election are:

Time zone Voting hours (local time)
Newfoundland 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Atlantic 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Eastern 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Central 8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
(and Saskatchewan in the 2015 election)*
7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Pacific 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

For example, if an employee in British Columbia regularly works 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., the employer is not required to provide time off to vote because the employee already has three consecutive hours free from work during the Pacific region voting hours. However, if this employee was scheduled to work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the employer would be required to provide paid time off to ensure the employee has three consecutive hours off. This could be accomplished by allowing the employee to arrive one hour late for work at 10:00 a.m. or to leave one hour early, at 4:00 p.m.

Further, the Act provides that the employer may not deduct pay or impose a penalty on an employee for taking the time off provided for voting. This also applies to hourly and piece-work employees, as well as those employed on other bases. The employer must ensure that an employee is not paid less than the amount the employee would have normally earned on voting day had they continued to work during the time off provided for voting.

The requirement to provide paid time off to vote applies to all employers. However, there is an exception for employers in the transportation industry who transport goods or passengers by land, air, or water if certain conditions are met. Employers in this industry should review the requirements in section 132(3) of the Act.

Employers should also be aware that they are prohibited from intimidating, unduly influencing, or interfering with an employee’s entitlement to take three consecutive hours for voting.

Employers who fail to provide time off for voting may be fined up to $2000, three months imprisonment, or both.