The federal government recently announced that a federal election will be held on September 20, 2021. On or before that day, Canadians from all provinces and territories will be called upon to elect their next Prime Minister and Members of Parliament. The question for employees and employers alike is; can an employee take time away from work to vote?

The Canada Elections Act

Employers have an obligation towards employees when it comes to giving them the time to go vote on election day. Those obligations are outlined in s. 132 of the Canada Elections Act. The section is called “Time to Employees for Voting”. It states the following:

132 (1) Every employee who is an elector is entitled, during voting hours on polling day, to have three consecutive hours for the purpose of casting his or her vote and, if his or her hours of work do not allow for those three consecutive hours, his or her employer shall allow the time for voting that is necessary to provide those three consecutive hours.

(2) The time that the employer shall allow for voting under subsection (1) is at the convenience of the employer.

(3) This section and section 133 do not apply to an employee of a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air or water who is employed outside his or her polling division in the operation of a means of transportation, if the additional time referred to in subsection (1) cannot be allowed without interfering with the transportation service.

What Are the Rights and Obligations of Employees and Employers?

In other words, an employer must give his employees at least three continuous hours to vote on election day. The employer is not allowed to penalize employees for the time they take to vote. However, as noted above, it is the employer’s right to determine which hours the employee will be permitted to take.

Employees should keep in mind that polling station hours are important to consider with respect to these requirements. If an employee works regular hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and polls in their riding stay open well after 8:00 p.m. then the employee will be able to vote after work. The central point is that the employer must ensure that the employee has three consecutive hours in which they are not working, and during which they can vote. If the polling station hours fall within an employee’s working hours, or within part of the employee’s working hours, they may be required to take some or all of that time away from work. However, if the employee’s normal schedule allows for three hours in which they can vote outside of work hours, the employer’s obligation is eliminated.

What if an Employer Does Not Comply?

The employer must comply with the requirements of the Canada Elections Act. Failing to do so could constitute an offence under the Act. Under s. 489 of the Act, there are several offences the employer could be charged with:

489 (1) Every person is guilty of an offence who contravenes

(a) being an employer, subsection 132(1) (failure to allow time to vote) or 133(1) (making deductions from employees’ wages for time given to vote);

(b) section 165 (prohibited use of loudspeaker); or

(c) paragraph 166(1)(b) (wearing of emblems, etc., in polling station).

Being convicted of any of those offences can result in fines, jail, or both.

Voting by Mail-in-Ballot

Due to COVID-19 considerations, the federal government is also ensuring Canadians are aware they can vote by “special ballot”, also known as a mail-in ballot. Eligible voters can apply to vote ahead of election day by mail, eliminating the need to vote in person at a polling station. However, they must apply to Elections Canada in time to do so.

To be eligible to vote by mail-in-ballot, a voter must be:

  • A Canadian citizen;
  • Be 18 years of age or older on election day;
  • Have a home address in Canada; and
  • Be in their riding when they submit their application to vote by special ballot.

If the voter is eligible to vote by mail-in ballot, they can apply online or submit their application to their local Elections Canada Office or online. The voter will be required to provide proof of identification and address in either case.

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Ontario for Questions Pertaining to the federal election and the workplace

The Canadian election is taking place in just a few weeks. It is important for employers and employees to understand their workplace rights and obligations when it comes to ensuring adequate time to vote so that each person who chooses to exercise this right is able to do so.

For advice on the workplace and the federal election, COVID-19 workplace policies, employer liability, employee rights and other employment or labour law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.