Municipal elections in Ontario take place on October 24, 2022, with voting hours running between 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. The Ontario Municipal Elections Act, 1996 provides that every employee that is eligible to vote is entitled to three consecutive hours away from work during polling hours on election day to vote. In some cases, employers will need to provide paid time off to permit employees to vote.
Only Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years old and who qualify to vote based on certain residency/property ownership/tenancy conditions are eligible to vote in Ontario municipal elections.
If an employee’s hours of work do not provide them to with three consecutive hours away from work, the employer must provide the employee with paid time off as long as necessary to attain the minimum three-hour requirement.
The employer still maintains control over when the time off is provided to meet the three-hour requirement, and thus, retains flexibility in managing operational needs so that time off is at the employer’s convenience. Employers will have no obligation to provide time off work where an employee’s schedule already provides for three consecutive hours off work between voting hours.
For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., there will be three consecutive hours for voting between 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and the employer would have no obligation to provide time off work.
If an employee is scheduled to work from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the employer will be required to provide a three-hour window for voting, which can be most optimally achieved by letting the employee to leave one hour early at 5:00 p.m. However, the employer may choose to provide the employee with three consecutive hours off earlier in the day, if it is absolutely essential that the employee is at work in the afternoon/evening.
Where an employee is permitted to take time off from work to vote, the employer may not deduct from the employee’s pay or otherwise impose any penalty. Employers who do not adhere to the requirement to provide three consecutive hours free from work without a reduction in pay for voting purposes may receive a fine of up to $50,000.
Employers should review employee schedules for October 24, 2022, to ensure they meet their three-hour voting obligations and to minimize any operational conflicts. Employers should be careful when scheduling overtime or additional hours on this day, as doing either could impact the three-hour window required for employees to vote.
Employers of unionized employees should review their respective collective agreement, as it may contain additional provisions regarding the unionized employees’ right to time off to vote beyond the three-hour requirement.