Election Day Is Coming – What Employers Need to Know

Election Day Employer Obligations

It would be impossible NOT to notice that we have an election coming up in Canada. However, we are not inundated with the actual date like other political messages, so as a reminder for those who have election fatigue, Election Day is just around the corner: Monday October 21, 2019.

Employer Obligations Regarding Election Day in Canada

Employees have certain rights, and employers have certain obligations with regards to federal elections (our federation means that the rights and obligations change for provincial and municipal elections). For federal elections, the Canada Elections Act governs what employers should (and should not) be doing. On my computer, the section of the Act that employers need to be knowledgeable about fits onto one screen without scrolling!

The first critical thing for employers to know is that they must give their employees three consecutive hours off during voting hours. Voting hours vary by province, but regardless of the province, the polls are open for 12 hours. In a nod to employers, the Act allows for the time off to be “at the convenience of the employer” – a phrase that is unlikely to be found in any other Canadian legislation.

Using British Columbia as an example – the polls are open 7am to 7pm – it may mean that “normal” workers (say, 9am to 5pm folks) do not actually get three hours free during polling time. The legislation expects that “employer[s] shall allow the time for voting that is necessary to provide those three consecutive hours”. The law further expects that pay cannot be deducted (or a penalty to be imposed) to allow for the three-hour window. Changing work hours is one possibility for some employers to avoid paying for the needed time off, but allowing employees to start late or leave early (with pay) may be easier for some. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those – in BC – that work a 7am to 7pm shift; those employers will need to ensure those worker can have three hours (of the employer’s choosing) on Election Day.

Two final notes: employees can waive – without pressure from the employer – the three hour minimum (our experience is that may employees do) and GET OUT AND VOTE.

Marc Henshall

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