On Thursday, June 2, 2022, Ontarians will return to the polls to elect a provincial government. Pursuant to Ontario’s Elections Act (the “Act”), every Canadian citizen that is a resident of Ontario who is 18 years of age or older is entitled to three consecutive hours while polls are open on election day in order to cast their vote.
Required Time Off from Work to Vote
As set out in the Act, the voting hours in Ontario begin at 9:00 am and end at 9:00 pm (or 8:00 am to 8:00 pm for those electoral districts entirely in Central Standard Time). If an employee’s work schedule is such that he or she would not typically have the required three consecutive hours within which to vote, the employer must provide the employee time off from work to the extent necessary to attain that minimum three-hour requirement. The time off must be provided at the time of day that is most convenient for the employer, subject to any policy requirements.
Employers with employees who work remotely should note that this requirement applies regardless of whether employees work in-person.
No Reduction in Pay
Employers may not deduct or reduce an employee’s pay as a result of being provided time off to vote and may not otherwise penalize an employee for exercising his or her right to vote. If an employee is required to work less than his or her regular hours on election day in order to be provided with the required time off to vote, the employee must nonetheless be paid as though he or she worked the full regular day of work.
For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm on election day, he or she would have only two hours free from work before the polls close. In this example, the employer would most easily meet its obligation by permitting the employee to leave work one hour early (at 6:00 pm) so that he or she is provided with the required three-hour block of time before polls close at 9:00 pm. However, employers may choose when to provide the three consecutive hours at a time most convenient for them. In the above example, if it were essential for the business that the employee be at work until 7:00 pm, the employer could, for example, permit the employee to come into work at 12:00 pm in order to satisfy its obligation under the Act.
Employers of unionized employees should review their collective agreement, as it may contain a provision regarding the unionized employees’ right to time off to vote beyond the three-hour requirement set out in the Act.
Penalty for Non-Compliance
Failing to provide the required three consecutive hours free from work without a deduction in pay may result in a fine of up to $5,000 per violation. Further, employers that are convicted for such a violation and are found to have done so knowingly may instead be liable for a $25,000 fine and/or imprisonment for a term of two years less a day