Are you wondering if you can get time off work to vote in Canada?
The federal election on September 20th, 2021 is quickly approaching. It is important for voters to plan ahead to ensure they are able to attend the polling place during the opening hours.
The election day is a Monday and is resultingly a workday for many Canadians. Without time off, this would prohibit many hopeful voters from being able to cast their ballot. However, Canadian legislation has stepped in to support voting rights.
Pursuant to section 132(1) of the Canada Elections Act, SC 2000, c. 9, (the “Act”), electors (who must be Canadian citizens and at least 18 years of age on polling day (section 3)) have the right to have three consecutive hours during voting hours on the polling day to cast their vote.
If their work hours do not otherwise permit this allotted time for voting, their employer must provide them with time off so they have three consecutive hours during the polling hours to vote.
Get time off work to vote in Canada
For example, if the polling hours are 9:30 am to 9:30 pm, and you are scheduled to work from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, your employer would not be required to provide time off because you would have 5.5 consecutive hours after work to vote.
However, if your work hours are 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, your employer would be obliged to modify your hours to allow you to vote.
Based on these hours, the time off could consist of:
1) 2.5 hours off at the beginning of your scheduled work time, such that you start work at 12:30 pm and have three consecutive hours to vote during polling hours before reporting to work;
2) 3 hours off at some point in the middle of the day; or
3) 1.5 hours off at the end of the day, such that you finish work at 6:30 pm and have three consecutive hours to vote after your workday.
This time off may be at the convenience of the employer (section 132(2)), but the time must be allowed without the employer deducting your pay (section 133(1) and (2)).
Your employer is also not allowed to intimidate you or in any way interfere with your decision to take the three-hour time off to vote (section 134).
Can my employer force me to vote at advance polls?
Your employer cannot force you to vote at advance polls. Even if you have the opportunity to cast your ballot in advance polls or by mail, employers are still required by law to provide you three consecutive hours off to vote on election day.
There was a case in 2016 between the Commissioner of Canada Elections (the “Commissioner”) and Shell Canada, where Shell Canada had failed to permit their employees to have time off on the election day in 2015 because it had provided paid time off and transportation to an advance polling station.
The Commissioner held that this was contrary to subsection 132(1) of the Act, and Shell Canada had to sign a Compliance Agreement with the Commissioner to undertake to comply with the Act in the future.
Are there exceptions for the permitted time off to vote?
There is an exception for companies that engage in transportation outside the polling division (section 133(3)). Transportation employers do not need to ensure employees have three consecutive hours for voting if the following four elements are present:
- transports goods or passengers by land, air or water;
- an employee is employed outside their polling division;
- the employee operates a means of transportation; and
- the three hours cannot be provided without interfering with the transportation service.
Therefore, if you are an employee in the transportation industry but your employer does not include one of the four factors above, your employer must still provide three consecutive hours for you to vote.
Punishment for Offending Employers
Employees can make their complaints to the Commissioner. An employer who is found to violate the laws regarding time off for voting is liable to a maximum fine of $2,000 or maximum imprisonment of three months, or both (section 500(1)).
Further, if your employer has interfered with your time off for voting by using intimidation, undue influence or any other means, your employer could be liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 or a maximum imprisonment of five years, or both (section 500(5)).
I am an eligible employee, but do not want to take time off work to vote. Can I waive this right?
An employee may waive their right to have time off work to vote, choosing to stay at work. However, this must be voluntary and if you are an employer, you should consider getting this waiver in writing.
Time Off Work To Vote Key Takeaways
Companies should ensure that their voting rights are respected and that they have three consecutive hours to vote on September 20th, even if they had time off to vote on the advanced polling day.
If you are an employee and your employer is not permitting you to have time off, you may make a complaint to the Commissioner to protect your rights, as well as those of your colleagues.
Employers should be aware of the polling hours in their electoral district and compare those hours to their employees’ work schedules to permit each employee the requisite time to vote.
Author: ROBINS APPLEBY law firm, Toronto Ontario- 416.360.3379