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Canada goes to the polls on October 21, 2019, and as such, it is an opportune time to review employee and employer rights and responsibilities on election day. This is important because mismanagement of voting rights can result in a violation of employment standards legislation or even unjust or wrongful dismissal.

Time Off to Vote

Pursuant to the Canada Elections Act, every employee who is an “elector” is entitled to three consecutive hours off work to vote. Electors are those persons who on polling day, are Canadian citizens, and who are 18 years of age or older.

Caveats to the Rule: Employers’ Convenience

An employee is entitled to three consecutive hours off work to vote, but if an employee’s work schedule allows for three consecutive hours while the polls are open, the employer need not give the employee any additional time off.

If an employee is provided with time off to vote, this time must be paid and is “at the employer’s convenience”. Employees may, for instance, be released at lunch, in the morning or at the end of the day, in satisfaction of the employer’s obligations.

Opening times for polling stations must be considered when determining whether employees will require time off to vote. In Ontario, polling stations are open from 9:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. and therefore if an employee works from 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch break, the employer must allow the employee to leave at 6:30 p.m. to satisfy its legal obligations. Employers may, in theory, and subject to the employee’s employment contract, change an employee’s schedule, in order to satisfy the three-hour requirement.

Caveats to the Rule: Transport Companies

An employee’s right to time off work to vote pursuant to the Canada Elections Act does not apply to transport companies and their employees operating a means of transport outside their polling division if the time off to vote cannot be allowed without interfering with the transport service. In such a case, the employer need not grant the employee time off to vote.

Caveats to the Rule: Waiver of Right to Vote – Get it in Writing

An employee can waive their right to time off work to vote. If the employee waives this right, they may remain at work. Employers should consider putting such a waiver in writing and having the employee agree in order to avoid a situation where the employee later argues that the employer interfered with the employee’s right to time off work.

Requirement to Pay Employees

Employees who take time off to vote are entitled to be paid the amount they would have earned on that day had they not taken the time off to vote.

Employers may not withhold such pay from employees or otherwise interfere with an employee’s right to three hours of time off to vote. Should employers withhold employee pay, this could constitute an offence under the Canada Elections Act and could be punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to three years, or both.

Should employers use other means to prevent eligible employees from having three consecutive hours to vote, they could be liable under the Canada Elections Act, punishable by a fine of up to $50,000, imprisonment for up to five years or both.

If you have any questions and/or feel that your rights may have been violated, reach out to a Toronto employment lawyer to better understand your rights and obligations, please contact Sultan Lawyers by telephone at 416-214-5111 or by email at mlahert@sultanlawyers.com. We can review a series of important matters with you including recourse for a violation of your statutory rights and potential relation to unjust dismissal and wrongful dismissal.  


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