On September 20, 2021, Canadians will head to the polls to cast their ballot in first federal election since October 2019.
The upcoming election is unlike one we have ever experienced. It marks the first time in Canada’s history that citizens will elect their Prime Minister during a pandemic. To keep voting stations safe, Elections Canada has enacted stringent health and safety measures for both electors and polling staff.
Additionally, Canadians have the option of voting by mail this year. This will decrease the potential of COVID-19 exposure at the polls. Eligible voters who wish to apply to vote by mail must do so by September 14, 2021, to allow time for the receipt of the voting kit and the return of their marked mail-in ballot.
While the pandemic will alter the way Canadians vote this year, the duties, and obligations of employers on election day remain the same.
What are my election day obligations as an employer?
Regardless of the employee’s work arrangements (working from home or working from the physical workplace), the employer duties under the Canada Elections Act (the “Act”) to accommodate staff on election day are unchanged.
Under section 132(1) of the Act, every employee who is eligible to vote is entitled, during voting hours on polling day, to have three consecutive hours to cast 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 time off work to vote.
While many people interpret this section to mean that employers must provide employees with time off work to vote, this is not always the case.
The section only requires that the voter have three consecutive hours free from work during voting hours. It does not necessarily require that they be during the workday.
For example, if an employee works 9am to 5pm and the polls are open from 8am to 8pm, the employee has three consecutive hours after work to vote. In this case, the employer does not have to provide them with any time off.
Alternatively, employees who work shift work or overtime hours will likely need time off work to vote. Employers can choose to give these employees three consecutive hours off work in the form of a late start time, mid-day break, or allowing them to leave work early.
The Act states that if time off for voting is required during the workday, it is chosen at the convenience of the employer, not the employee.
Lastly, employers may not make a deduction from the pay of an employee, or impose a penalty, for the time that the employee has off for voting.
It is also important to keep in mind that, under section 132(3) of the Act, some employees of transportation companies may not be eligible to receive time off to vote.
What are the consequences for non-compliance?
Employers should be aware that the following may result in an offence under the Act:
- Refusing to provide staff with three consecutive hours to vote
- Deducting an employee’s pay
- Punishing them for taking the time given to them
The punishment for these offences could result in a fine of up to $2,000, up to three months in jail, or both.
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