It’s that time of the provincial democratic cycle – election day. The polls open tomorrow and many employers and employees have the same question: are employees entitled to paid time off to vote?
The answer to this question is governed by Ontario’s Election Act. Under the Election Act, official polling hours are from 9:00am to 9:00pm EST (8:00am to 8:00pm CT). During polling hours, employees qualified to vote in Ontario’s general election are entitled to a period of three consecutive hours to fulfill their civic duties.
Does this mean that employees are entitled to three hours of paid time off work to vote? Not necessarily.
If an employee’s regular working schedule does not prevent him/her from enjoying a three-hour period to vote, their employer is not required to provide any paid time off. This will be the case for most part time and full time employees. For example, if Tim works from 8:00am to 5:00pm, he would have three consecutive hours after work to attend his polling station. Accordingly, he would not be entitled to any paid time off.
On the other hand, if an employee’s regular working hours prevent him/her from enjoying a three-hour period to vote, the employee is entitled to make a request for time off. Once the request is made, their employer is required to grant the request and is prohibited from deducting from the pay of the employee or penalizing the employee for their absence. This will be applicable mainly to employees working twelve-hour shifts during polling hours. For example, if Tina works 8:00am to 8:00pm, she would not have a three-hour period to attend her polling station on election day. Consequently, she would be entitled to request time off to vote and her employer would be required to accommodate her request.
However – and importantly – even if an employee is entitled to request time off to vote, the employee does not determine when he/she will leave work. The Election Act provides that any time off for voting may be scheduled at the time of day that best suits the convenience of the employer. In Tina’s case, her employer may determine that it would be most convenient if she left work at 6:00pm. In that scenario, Tina’s employer would have fulfilled its duties since Tina would enjoy three consecutive hours during which she can vote vote while only enjoying two hours of paid time off.
Under the Election Act, employers who do not comply with these voting requirements may be liable to a fine of up to $5,000.00 per violation.