Elections and employment law

Are employees entitled to time off from work to vote?

Elections and employment law
Brittany Taylor

Election Day in Canada is upon us. Those of us who did not take advantage of the advance polls will be heading to a polling station to cast our ballots, and for some of us that might require time off from work. In this post, we will be reviewing employee rights, and employer obligations, when it comes to voting.

Are employees entitled to time off from work to vote?

In some cases, yes.

This answer can come as a surprise to many employees and employers. This is because we typically expect to see legislated leaves of absence established in provincial employment standards legislation, such as the Employment Standards Act, 2000 in Ontario. Instead, the issue of employee time off for voting is dealt with in the Canada Elections Act (CEA).

Section 132 of the CEA requires that every employee who is eligible to vote, with an exception for transportation companies in certain circumstances, be provided with three consecutive hours to cast their vote on polling day. If an employee’s hours of work prevent them from having three consecutive hours available when polls are open, their employer is obligated to allow them the necessary time off work, with no loss in pay.

In fact, Section 133 of the CEA indicates that an employer who pays an employee less than they would normally have earned on polling day because they needed time off to vote is deemed to have made a deduction from that employee’s pay.

Who does this apply to?

To be clear, the CEA does not require that an employer provide every employee with three hours of paid time off on Election Day. Only those employees who otherwise would not have three consecutive hours off while the polls are open are entitled to time off from work. 

Many employees will have three consecutive hours off either before or after their regular working hours in which they can cast their ballot. For example, where a polling station is open from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., an employee who works from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. will not be entitled to any additional time off from work to vote under the CEA. However, consider an employee who has the same designated polling station, but is scheduled to work a 12-hour shift between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. This employee will require time off work to ensure they have a consecutive three hours to vote.

Who decides the schedule?

The employer is entitled to determine when an eligible employee takes time off, as long as the time off results in three consecutive hours in which the employee can cast their vote. An employer cannot, for example, satisfy this obligation by allowing an employee to take a slightly longer lunch (unless they are prepared to offer a three-hour lunch).

In most cases, an employer will allow an eligible employee to come in later or leave earlier to ensure they have at least three hours when the polls are open to vote.

What about penalties?

Employers that fail to provide staff with three consecutive hours to vote or reduce an employee’s wages because they require time off can be fined up to $2,000 or be sentenced to three months of jail time. 

Employers that interfere with an employee who tries to exercise their right to take time off to vote (for example, threats and intimidation, imposing disciplinary action, or terminating their employment) can be subject to a fine of up to $50,000 or five years of jail time. 


We encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote on Election Day. If you have any questions about your rights or obligations, whether about elections or otherwise, please feel free to contact us

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