Employer obligations on election day

Canadians head to the polls on Jan. 23 — here's a rundown of employer responsibilities under the <i>Canada Elections Act</i>

As Canadians prepare to head to the polls on Jan. 23, 2006, to elect a federal government, employers are being reminded of their obligations under the Canada Elections Act to allow employees to vote.

Here’s a brief rundown of what’s in the act on this front:

Consecutive hours for voting

Every employee who is an elector is entitled, during voting hours on polling day, to have three consecutive hours for the purpose of casting a ballot.

If the employee’s hours of work do not allow time for her to cast a ballot, the employer must allow the worker to take time off and provide those three consecutive hours.

For example, in the Eastern time zone polls are open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. So an employee scheduled to work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. would not have three consecutive hours to vote. In that case, the employer would have to either let the worker come in late (12:30 p.m. would give the worker three hours) or leave early (leaving at 6:30 p.m. would give the worker three hours.)

Employers can choose the time

The act also specifies that the “time the employer shallow allow for voting … is at the convenience of the employer.” This means the employee, using the example above who works from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., isn’t entitled to take three hours off in the middle of her workday to vote. The employer can decide what three-hour block she should use.

Transportation employers exempt

Employees of companies that transport goods or passengers by land, air or water that are employed outside of their polling divisions are not entitled to time off to vote if the additional time cannot be granted without interfering with the transportation service, the act states.

Employers can’t penalize employees, can’t dock pay

Section 133 of the Canada Elections Act states that “no employer may make a deduction from the pay of an employee, or impose a penalty” on an employee who is exercising her right to vote.

It goes on to expressly state that an employer that pays a worker less than they would have earned if they didn’t take the time allowed under the act to vote is deemed to have made a deduction as prohibited by the act. This applies even to hourly and piece-work employment.

Employers can’t intimidate staff

The act states that “no employer shall, by intimidation, undue influence or b y any other means, interfere with the granting to an elector in their employ of the three consecutive hours.”

Fines can go as high as $2,000 for a summary conviction and as high as $5,000 for an indictment for breaching the act. Jail time is also an option, with penalties as much as one year for a summary conviction and five years for an indictment.

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