As you know, a federal election has been called for Monday, May 2, 2011. Depending on current scheduling practices, this may trigger an obligation upon employers to provide paid time off to vote.
Time Off to Vote:
Voting hours in the Eastern time zone are from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. All employees who are eligible to vote (18 years of age or older and Canadian citizens) on polling day are entitled to three consecutive hours off at some point between these voting hours to allow them to cast their ballots. If an employee’s hours of work would not ordinarily allow for such a consecutive period, the employer is obligated to provide sufficient time off to create the mandatory three-hour period.
A few examples of the implications of these obligations may help make things clear:
If an employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. there will be no obligation on the employer to provide time off, given that the employee would have more than three consecutive hours to vote upon leaving work.
If an employee would ordinarily be scheduled to work from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the employer would either have to allow the employee to start his or her shift late (no earlier than 12:30 p.m.), to leave early (no later than 6:30 p.m.), or to otherwise grant some other three-hour period off during the day.
It is important to note that the timing of the three hour break on polling day is determined by the employer.
Payment of Wages:
In addition to providing this time off, it is critical that the employer pay the employee what he or she would have earned during the time allowed off for voting. Employers cannot impose a penalty or deduct pay for time off to create the three hour voting period. This applies equally to employees paid on an hourly, piece-work or any other basis.
Exception for Transportation Employees:
There are exceptions to the three hour time period. Specifically, it does not apply where the following four conditions are met: 1) the employer is a company that transports goods or passengers by land, air, or water; 2) the employee is employed outside his or her polling division; 3) the employee is employed in the operation of a means of transportation; and 4) the time off cannot be granted without interfering in the transportation service.
Penalties Under the Canada Elections Act:
Employers who fail to provide the required time off for voting for employees who qualify or who reduce an employee’s pay for time off for voting are guilty of offences under the Canada Elections Act that carry potential fines of up to $1,000, up to three months’ imprisonment, or both.
It is an even more serious offence for an employer to use intimidation, undue influence, or any other means to interfere with the granting of time off to vote. This offence carries a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and up to five years’ imprisonment.