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What you need to know about time off work for employees on Election Day

On Election Day, eligible electors — i.e., Canadian citizens 18 years or older who are registered to vote — are entitled to three consecutive hours to vote between when the polls open and when they close. If an employee’s work schedule does not otherwise allow for this, an employer must grant them time off to vote.

This election law primer is intended as general guidance only. Please contact Awanish SinhaHartley LeftonAmanda D. IarussoJacob KlugsbergAndrew Butler, or Adam Kanji, of our firm’s Public Sector Group. if you have any specific questions. We would be pleased to assist you.

Employers can decide when on Election Day they will grant their employees the required time off. For example, if voting hours in a particular locality run from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and an employee works from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., that employee’s work schedule would not allow for three consecutive hours off for voting. The employee’s employer could:

a)    provide one hour off at the beginning of the employee’s schedule, allowing them to start work at 10:00 p.m.;

b)    provide one hour off at the end of the employee’s schedule, allowing them to leave work at 4:00 p.m.; or

c)    provide three consecutive hours off within the employee’s work hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

All employers are required by law to give time off work to vote. However, under s. 132(3) of the Canada Elections Act, this obligation does not extend to employers in the transportation industry if: (i) the employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water; (ii) the employee is employed outside their polling division; (iii) the employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation; and (iv) the time off cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.

It is an offence for employers to penalize or deduct pay from employees for taking time off to vote, or to fail to provide an employee with time off to vote as required under s. 132 of the Canada Elections Act. An employee must be paid what he or she would have earned during the time allowed off for voting. Any violations are punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, three months’ imprisonment, or both. Employers also must not “by intimidation, undue influence or by any other means, interfere with the granting to an elector in their employ of the three consecutive hours for voting” (s. 134). Violating this further prohibition is punishable by a fine up to $50,000, five years’ imprisonment, or both.

This post is part of our 2021 federal election series. You can access related content here.

Our Public Sector experts at McCarthy Tétrault LLP can help. Please contact Awanish SinhaHartley LeftonAmanda D. IarussoJacob KlugsbergAndrew Butler, or Adam Kanji if you have any questions or for assistance.

Authors: Awanish SinhaHartley Lefton, Jacob Klugsberg