June 20, 2018by Israel Foulon LLP
Ontario’s provincial general election is scheduled for June 7, 2018. Employers should be mindful of their obligations and the widespread misconceptions with respect to employee voting rights on Election Day.
Eligibility to Vote
An employee must be a Canadian citizen and Ontario resident who is 18 years of age or older on the day of the election in order to be eligible to vote.
Three Consecutive Hours Off for Voting
Under Ontario’s Election Act, employees who are eligible to vote must have three consecutive hours free from work in order to vote. An employee’s pay cannot be reduced in order to comply with this rule.
Employers are not required to give all employees three hours of paid time off work to vote if their schedule otherwise permits sufficient time to vote outside of working hours. However, if time off during working hours is required to comply with an employee’s voting rights, the time off must be paid. It may, however, be granted at the time of day that is most convenient to the employer.
If an employee works from 9 am to 5 pm in a riding in which the polls are open until 9 pm, the employer may refuse a request for time off during the shift to vote. This is because the employee would have three or more consecutive hours after work to vote (i.e., from 5 pm until 9 pm when the polls close).
If an employee’s schedule does not permit three consecutive nonworking hours to vote while polls are open, the employer only needs to change the employee’s schedule enough so that three hours to vote are provided while polls are open. If an employee’s shift is from 11 am to 8 pm, the employer may alter the employee’s schedule to comply with the rule in various ways. The employer could:
- permit the employee to commence work at 12 pm (giving the employee from 9 am to 12 pm to vote),
- permit the employee to take three hours off during the workday to vote at a time that is convenient for the employer (e.g., from 2 pm to 5 pm), or
- permit the employee to leave work early at 6 pm (giving the employee from 6 pm to 9 pm to vote).
Returning Officers and Other Poll Officials
Under the Election Act, an employee who is a returning officer or has been appointed by a returning officer to be a poll official must be granted unpaid time off to perform his or her duties. However, the employee must provide at least seven days’ notice before the leave begins. The employer cannot dismiss or penalize the employee who takes the leave, and cannot deduct time taken as unpaid leave from the employee’s vacation entitlement.
Under the Election Act, anyone who prevents or impedes another person from voting or exercising their right to vote may be fined up to $5,000 for each violation.