Politics·ASK CBC NEWS

You can take time off work to vote. Here's what you need to know

The Canada Elections Act says employers should ensure workers have three consecutive hours to vote at a polling station on election day, but there are exceptions for those in the transportation industry.

Every eligible voter is entitled to 3 consecutive hours off work to vote — without loss of pay

Do you know you can take three consecutive hours off work on election day to vote at a polling station? (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

If you're not voting by mail in this federal election, you'll be casting your ballot in-person at a polling station.

That might fall during your work hours on Sept. 20, but the Canada Elections Act entitles you to three consecutive hours off from your work day to vote without any loss of pay.

When should I take time off on election day?

First, you'll need to know the opening hours of your assigned polling place, which depend on which time zone it is in.

By law, your employer can decide which hours to let you off — and the off hours don't have to be work hours. 

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Let's say your assigned polling station in the Vancouver Centre riding opens from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT, and your normal work hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. 

In order to allow you to have three consecutive hours off for voting, your boss will have to take one of these three measures:

  • Let you arrive late at 10 a.m. (you have one non-work hour and two work hours to vote).
  • Let you leave early at 4 p.m. (you have one work hour and two non-work hours to vote).
  • Allow you three consecutive hours off at any point during your work day.
By law, your employer should give you three consecutive hours off to vote on election day, regardless of whether they allow you to cast your ballot at advance polls or by mail. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver-based employment lawyer Andrew Woodhouse told CBC News employers shouldn't include the usual half-hour meal break as part of those three consecutive hours.

"Unless it's a three-hour lunch break," he said. "It's not possible for an employer to say, 'Take an hour here or take an hour there, and take an hour somewhere else,'" Woodhouse said.

Can my boss ask me to do advance or mail-in voting instead?

By law, your employer should give you three consecutive hours off to vote on election day, regardless of whether they allow you to cast your ballot at advance polls (Sept. 10-13) or by mail.

The Office of Commissioner of Canada Elections — which handles complaints about violations of Canada Elections Act — said there were some cases in which employers allowed time off for advance voting but denied time off on election day.

A notable case is Shell Canada — on the election day of Oct. 19, 2015, the oil company declined its Alberta employees' request to take time off to vote, because it said it had offered paid time off for advance voting.

The company had to sign an agreement with the commissioner vowing to honour employees' right to vote on federal election days in the future.

Do all industries allow workers time off to vote?

The Canada Elections Act doesn't guarantee all workers in the transportation industry the right to take time off. Transportation companies are not obligated to give time off if all of these four conditions are met:

  • The company transports goods or passengers by land, air or water.
  • The employee's work location is outside of their riding.
  • The employee operates a means of transportation (such as a bus).
  • Time off cannot be allowed without interrupting the transportation service.

So if you're a bus driver working outside of your riding, you may still be able to take time off if your boss arranges another driver as your backfill. 

The Canada Elections Act doesn't guarantee all transportation workers can have time off to vote on election day. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

What if my boss cuts my pay for taking time off?

It's against the law to impose a penalty or deduct pay from employees who have been given time off to vote on election day.

According to the Canada Elections Act, employers who violate the rule are subject to a $2,000 fine and/or three months of jail at maximum.

  • Use Vote Compass to compare the party platforms with your views.
  • Find out who's ahead in the latest polls with our Poll Tracker.

If employers imply or express to employees repercussions for taking time off to vote — such as firing or holding off promotion — they're subject to a $50,000 fine and/or five years of jail at maximum.

Employees could file their complaints to the Commissioner of Canada Elections by filling out this online form.


Do you have a question about the federal election? Send them to ask@cbc.ca or leave it in the comments. We're answering as many as we can leading up to election day.

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