With a Provincial election fast approaching, it is timely to review an employer’s obligation to provide employees with time off from 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 comprise the four consecutive hours. The employer must not deduct pay or exact any penalty for the time off from work.
The employer has the right to unilaterally schedule this time off at a time that is 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.
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.
The Elections BC website suggests the use of advance voting (available May 6 to May 9, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) and cooperation between employers and employees to ensure that all individuals have the opportunity to vote without disrupting business operations.
Employers anticipating a disruption to their business on election day should consider how to best schedule any required employee time off for voting purposes prior to May 12th, and encourage employees to take advantage of advance polling.