A Provincial General Election will take place in British Columbia on Saturday, October 24, 2020 ("General Voting Day").
The B.C. Election Act imposes certain obligations on employers to ensure that their employees have sufficient time free from work to exercise their right to vote. As a service to our clients and other interested parties, we are publishing this bulletin to help employers understand the scope of these obligations.
Who can vote in the Provincial General Election?
All Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years old on General Voting Day and have lived in B.C. for six months are eligible to vote in the Provincial General Election.
When are polling stations open on General Voting Day?
Polling stations are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. PT.
Time off for Voting
Section 74 of the Election Act outlines an employer's obligations to provide time off for voting. Of particular significance, employers must provide their employees:
- Four consecutive hours off work. Employees eligible to vote are entitled to four consecutive hours free from work during voting hours on General Voting Day – i.e. between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. PT.
- Without loss of pay or penalty. An employer may not make any deduction from an employee's pay or impose any other penalty because he or she took time off to vote. Employees are entitled to their regular compensation for hours not worked because of voting.
- At a time scheduled by the employer. While an employer must provide its employees with time off work, the employer can choose in its discretion when to provide the four consecutive hours for voting.
Importantly, time free from work, does not necessarily mean four hours off work. Rather, it means that there must be a four-hour period free from work during voting hours. Time off can be at the beginning or end of an employee's shift, or can be altogether unnecessary if normal working hours already provide enough time free from work to vote.
Sam and Toby both work on General Voting Day.
Polling stations are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. PT
|Sam works from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.||Toby works from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.|
|The employer must let Sam do one of the
· Start late – 12:00 p.m. or later
· Leave early – 4:00 p.m. or earlier
· Take four consecutive hours off work during his scheduled hours
Irrespective of when Sam takes time off for voting, he is entitled to his regular compensation for his full shift
|Toby is not entitled to any time off work because he has four consecutive hours free from work for voting – 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.|
Employers Operating in a Unionized Environment
Any employer operating in a unionized environment is advised to review all provisions of the applicable collective agreement which speak to obligations on General Voting Day. The employer may have obligations over and above the statutory obligations set out in the Election Act.
Employees Working in a Remote Location
The right to have four consecutive hours off work on General Voting Day without any loss of pay or penalty is not a right available to all employees. An employee who is in a remote location by reason of employment such that he or she would be unable to reasonably reach any voting place during voting hours is not entitled to time off for voting.
Penalties for Non-Compliance
The consequences for an employer of failing to grant time off work for voting can be significant. Failure to comply with section 74 of the Election Act is an offence and, on conviction, the employer may be liable to one or both of the following: a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not longer than one year.
Any employer anticipating a disruption to its business on General Voting Day can encourage its employees to vote in advance voting. This will be available throughout B.C. from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (local time) from Thursday, October 15 to Wednesday, October 21. The employer cannot compel its employees to vote on those voting days.
Note that employees are entitled to four consecutive hours free from work for advance voting if:
- their work schedule on General Voting Day is such that they would not have four consecutive hours free from work during voting hours; and
- they are willing to vote at an advance voting opportunity.
These employees would not be entitled to further time free from work on General Voting Day.
What about COVID-19?
While the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly serve to make this election unique in more ways than one, it does not have a material effect on employer obligations under the Election Act.
However, prudent employers may wish to remind employees in advance of General Election Day to be mindful of the importance of physical distancing and other efforts that can be taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, and may wish to remind employees of the ability to vote by mail-in ballot. Elections BC indicates that over 450,000 British Columbians have requested mail-in ballots as of September 29.
For those who do intend to vote by mail, Elections BC has advised that completed mail-in ballots must be received by it before 8 p.m. (Pacific time) on Saturday, October 24, and recommends that they be mailed by no later than October 17.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.