Does My Employer Have to Give Me Time Off to Vote?

Today is a historic election day in the U.S. and, therefore, an opportune time to comment on employee rights with respect to elections in Ontario.  Ontario employees should be aware that, next time there is a Federal or Provincial election, employers are obligated to provide employees with time off work to vote (in certain circumstances).

Three Consecutive Hours to Vote

Under Ontario’s Election Act, all employees who are qualified to vote are entitled to three consecutive hours, while polls are open, for voting. In order to be qualified to vote in Ontario, an employee must: a) be a Canadian citizen; b) be at least eighteen years old on election day; and c) be a resident of Ontario.

Polls are open from 9am to 9pm in most Ontario ridings. Where an employee’s work hours do not permit him/her to have the required three consecutive hours to vote while polls are open, their employer must provide them with time off to ensure compliance with the employer’s legal obligations.

Employers are not obligated to provide three consecutive hours off work where an employee has the same amount of time to votes outside of their work hours within the time that polls are open. Employers also retain discretion as to when the three hours off for voting are taken. Time can be granted at a time that best suits the needs of that employer.

  • For example, Employee “A” works from 5:00am to 1:00pm. The polls in her riding are open from 9:00am to 9:00pm. Her employer would have no obligation to provide her with three hours off work (even if she requests it) since she would still have more than 3 consecutive hours to vote after her shift and before the polls closed at 9:00pm.
  • In contrast, Employee “B” works extended shift hours from 10:00am to 7:00pm. The polls in his riding are open from 9:00am to 9:00pm. If he requests time off to vote, his employer must provide him with sufficient time off to permit him to have a three hour consecutive window during which to vote. The employer may, for example, allow him to start work at noon, giving him time between 9:00am and noon to vote, may permit him to leave work at 6:00pm giving him three consecutive hours to vote before polls close at 9:00pm

Time off for voting is time off with pay. Deductions from employee pay for taking three consecutive hours to vote are prohibited- employees must be paid for a full day’s work. Employers also cannot dismiss or otherwise discipline an employee for time taken off to vote.

Employers who fail to comply with the Ontario Election Act and/or impede an employee’s right to vote may be fined up to $25,000 and/or imprisoned.

To find out more about your rights at work, contact employment lawyer Peter McSherry online or at 519-821-5465.