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Election day is an exciting time for the community in New Zealand. However, some employees may not have a reasonable opportunity to vote before starting work. As an employer, you need to give your employees time to vote on the polling day of a general election. The amount of time an employee is entitled to will depend on whether they provide essential work or services. As a general guideline, you should give your employees at least two hours to vote. This article will set out:

  • employees’ entitlement to vote on election day;
  • how much time you should give them; and
  • some special rules for employees on boats and ships. 

Are Employees Entitled to Time to Vote on Election Day?

Voting in a general election is an important constitutional responsibility for New Zealanders. Employees’ capacity to do so is accordingly protected by employment law. However, you may find that some of your employees cannot vote as they do not have enough time to vote before work. In this case, they have an automatic entitlement to vote on election day if they are qualified to vote.

In recent elections in New Zealand, early voting has become extremely popular. However, the existence of early voting does not mean that an employee necessarily had a reasonable opportunity to vote before starting work on the polling day itself. The entitlement relates specifically to leave to vote on polling day, and there are many reasons why an employee may not have taken the opportunity to submit an early vote. 

When in doubt about whether an employee had an opportunity to vote before they are due to start work, err on the side of good faith. The general principle is that voting in New Zealand can take two hours. This number includes travel time and other logistical hurdles like lining up and arranging documents if need be. If an employee is due to start work at 8am or 9am, they have not really had a reasonable opportunity to vote before work. Therefore, you should give them time to do so that day. 

How Much Time Do Employees Get to Vote?

In general, it is a good idea to remain flexible around an employee’s work commitments and schedule on polling day. As an employer, you should ensure all your employees have sufficient time to vote. However, regarding the entitlement employees have under law, the amount of time they can have to vote depends on whether they provide essential work or services. 

Providing Essential Work or Services

Your employee may provide essential work or services for your business. In this case, you must allow them to leave work at some point during the day to vote. You must also provide the employee with a reasonable time to vote and cannot deduct your employee’s pay if they take two hours or less.

Not Providing Essential Work or Services

In your business, it may be the case that your employees do not provide essential work or services. In this case, you must allow them to leave work by 3pm for the rest of the day, without any deductions from pay, to allow them an opportunity to vote.

Special Rules for Employees on Boats and Ships

There are special rules for employees on boats and ships in New Zealand. If a ship is in port on polling day of a general election, you must give crew members on that ship the opportunity to vote ashore if they are eligible to do so. 

Note that even if the employee is not currently registered to vote, they still have the entitlement to go ashore to register and vote at the same time. Employees do not have to leave the ship to vote, but they have the right to do so if they choose. 

Key Takeaways

As an employer, you need to give your employees time to vote on election day in New Zealand, specifically polling day on a general election. You should allow employees to leave at 3pm on election day to vote if they have not had the opportunity before work to do so. If you cannot allow your employee to leave at 3pm, as they are an essential worker, you must provide them with a reasonable amount of time (at least two hours) during the day to vote. If you want to know more about employee entitlements around voting, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do employers have to give employees leave to vote on election day?

Yes, they do. Employers have to provide employees time to vote on polling day for a general election if they are eligible to vote and have not had a reasonable opportunity to vote before starting work. 

How much time are employees entitled to?

If an employee does not provide essential work or services, you must allow them to leave work by 3pm for the rest of the day, without any pay deduction. If your business requires them for essential work, employees must be given a reasonable opportunity through the day to vote. You should allow your employees two hours to vote. 

What are the entitlements of employees who are crew on a ship in port?

If a ship is in port on polling day of a general election, you should give crew members on that ship the opportunity to vote ashore if they are eligible to do so. 

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