On June 26, 2023, a by-election for mayor of Toronto will take place. Employers should be aware that, under Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act, 1996 (the “Act”), they are obligated to provide employees who are eligible to vote in the by-election with time off to vote.
All employees who, on election day, are Canadian citizens, are at least 18 years old, meet certain residency or property ownership or tenancy conditions in the City of Toronto, and are not otherwise prohibited from voting under the Act, are entitled to be electors in the upcoming by-election. Such employees are entitled to have at least three consecutive hours during voting hours – which run from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm on election day – to cast their ballot.
If an employee’s hours of work do not allow for three consecutive hours off during voting hours, their employer must provide them with sufficient time off with pay to meet the requirement of three consecutive hours. More specifically, the Act provides that “[a]n elector whose hours of employment are such that he or she would not otherwise have three consecutive hours to vote on voting day is entitled to be absent from work for as long as is necessary to allow that amount of time”. The Act also indicates that the employee’s absence should be timed to suit the employer’s convenience as much as possible.
Therefore, for example, if an employee works from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm, it would not be necessary for their employer to give them time off as the employee has three hours after work in which to vote. If an employee works from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, their employer would be required to give them some time off to vote, but it would not be necessary to grant three hours off during the middle of the day. Since the Act provides that voting time is to be timed to suit the employer’s convenience, the employer in this case could instead allow the employee to leave work at 5:00 pm.
If it is necessary to provide time off during voting hours, there must be no deduction from the employee’s pay or imposition of any other penalty for the absence from work. This also applies to employees paid on a piece-work basis, who must be paid for a full day’s work as if they had not been given time off to vote. Note, however, that if an employee takes time off other than that provided by the employer, they are not entitled to payment for that time under the Act.
Employers who fail to provide voting time as required by the Act, who deduct pay from employees who take time off to vote, or who otherwise contravene the Act, could be found guilty of an offence under the Act and are liable to the following penalties:
- For an individual, a fine of not more than $25,000 or, for any offence that the presiding judge finds that the individual committed knowingly, imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or
- For a corporation or trade union, a fine of not more than $50,000 in addition to any other penalty provided for in the Act.