The Federal Election: What Employers Need to Know

On October 21, 2019, Canadians will head to the polls for the Federal Election. Here is what employers need to know to facilitate an employee’s right to vote.

The Three Clear Hours Rule

The primary obligation for employers on election day is to ensure that employees have three (3) consecutive hours to vote while the polls are open. What this means is if an employee’s shift starts three or more hours after the polls open or ends three or more hours before the polls close, there is no requirement to provide time off.

Poll Hours Across Canada

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.

Mountain
(and Saskatchewan in the 2019 election)*

7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Pacific

7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

When do Employees Have to be Paid?

Employers get to determine when the three hours off to vote occur. As such, for many employers in central and eastern Canada, that operate on a 9-5 workday, ensuring sufficient time-off to vote should not be an issue. However, if the polls are not open a full three hours before or after an employee’s shift, an employer will be required to provide the difference in paid time off.

For example, if polls open at 9:30 a.m. and close at 9:30 p.m. and an employee works 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. the employer must decide between having the employee start at 12:30 p.m., finish at 6:30 p.m., or provide 3 consecutive hours during the shift.

Any time off that an employer grants to an employee to vote must be paid. If the employee is not compensated by way of salary or hourly wage, the employer must pay the employee what he/she would have earned if they had not taken time off.

Are there any Exceptions?

The three clear hours rule does not apply to all employees, only those who are electors. That means that the employee must be both 18 years of age and a Canadian citizen.

Additionally, there is a limited exception for certain employers in the transportation industry. An employer in the transportation industry would not be required to provide three hours to employees to vote if the following requirements are met: 

  1. The Employer transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
  2. The employee is employed outside of his or her polling division;
  3. The employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation; and
  4. The time off to vote cannot be provided without interfering with the transportation service.

Penalties

An employer may not impose a penalty on an employee that exercises their voting rights.

In addition, employers who breach the above requirements may be subject to penalty under the Canada Elections Act.

The Act applies different penalties to employers’ actions based on whether there was intent. If an employer fails to allow time off or makes deductions from pay they commit an offence under the Act that is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, or 3 months imprisonment, or both. If an employer prevents an employee from using their voting time (this requires intent), the offence is punishable by summary conviction with a fine up to $20,000, or 1 year imprisonment, or both, or by indictment with a fine up to $50,000, or 5 years imprisonment, or both.

If you have any questions or require advice about your obligations as an employer on Election Day, do not hesitate to contact one of the members of our National Labour & Employment Group.

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