Once every four years, the second Tuesday in May brings with it an event of special significance to employers in British Columbia. While it may not have the same glamour or generate the same excitement in the workplace as other quadrennial events, like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, a provincial general election is something to which all employers should be turning their minds lest their employee scheduling practices fall afoul of their statutory obligations under the Election Act.
“What were those obligations again?”, we hear you asking. Our simplified question and answer guide is here to help.
1. When is election day?
Tuesday, May 9, 2017.
2. What do I have to do?
Allow employees paid time off work on election day so that they have at least 4 consecutive hours free from employment between the hours of 8am and 8pm.
The obligation only extends to employees who are entitled to vote and the obligation only applies if the employee’s ordinary hours of work on election day would not give them 4 consecutive hours away from work between 8am and 8pm.
3. What happens if I don’t?
The requirement to allow employees time off on election day is set out in section 74 of the Election Act. Breach constitutes an offence, punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not longer than one year, or both (Election Act, s. 261).
4. Who is entitled to vote?
Employees entitled to vote are those who: (i) are Canadian citizens; (ii) are 18 years of age or older on May 9, 2017; and (iii) have been a resident of BC for at least 6 months immediately before May 9, 2017. If an employee does not meet any one of those requirements (for example, if they are a permanent resident but not a citizen), they are not entitled to vote and so are not entitled to any time off work on election day.
5. How does the 4 consecutive hours free from employment between 8am and 8pm work?
Consider a typical employee who normally works from 9am to 5pm on a Tuesday. That schedule does not allow the employee 4 consecutive hours free from employment between 8am and 8pm. They have only 1 hour off work before starting their work day, and three hours off work after their work day is over. To comply with the Election Act, you would have to allow the employee to either come in to work late (at 12 noon) or leave work early (4pm) on election day. Either option would give the employee 4 consecutive hours off work between 8am and 8pm.
6. Can the employee dictate which hours they take off work?
No. The employer may set the time off “as best suits the convenience of the employer” (Election Act, s. 74(3)).
7. Is the time off paid or unpaid?
Paid. Employers are specifically prohibited from “mak[ing] a deduction in pay for the time off or exact[ing] any penalty from the employee for the time off” (Election Act, s. 74(4)(b)).
8. Anything else I need to know?
If you have any employees who, by reason of employment, are in such remote locations that they would be unable to reasonably reach any voting place during voting hours, you do not have to give those employees time off on election day. There is a recognition that no purpose would be served by giving employees time off in these circumstances and that they should have made alternative arrangements to vote.
9. My workplace is unionized, does that change anything?
The requirements above apply to all employers, including unionized employers. However, your collective agreement could provide additional requirements that you need to comply with. You should review your collective agreement to check whether it deals with time off on election days.
10. What if I have another question?
Contact us, we would be happy to help. Questions may be directed to David Woolias.