It’s election season and people all over the nation are encouraged to vote and express their opinions. There are three ways in which one can vote for a Federal election: by mail, by absentee ballot, or in person. If you don’t have the opportunity to vote by mail or with an absentee ballot, you must vote in person on the day of the election. Unfortunately, those who aren’t registered to vote by mail only have one way to vote. If employees are scheduled to work on election day, they may miss the opportunity to vote.
If your employees are working on election day, you may have to give them time off to vote depending on the state you’re in. Read more to find out:
Voting Leave Laws
Federal law doesn’t require employers to give their employees time off to vote; however, state law can require employers to give employees time off to vote. With federal elections, state law decides whether or not an employer must give an employee time off to vote. Currently, there are approximately 30 states where employers are legally required to give employees voting leave.
Here’s a list of states that currently require voting leave:
- New Mexico
- New York
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
For those who live in states that aren’t on the list, please keep in mind that you still may have to follow other voting laws. Although voting leave may not be required, you may not penalize employees for participating in voting. For example, South Carolina doesn’t require employers to give their workers time off to vote, but employers cannot discharge an employee simply because they want to exercise their political rights and privileges, even if they conflict with your own voting preferences. Additionally, in Washington state, employers don’t have to give employees paid time off to vote; however, an employer cannot tell the employee to withhold their vote. That being said, it’s best that you check your state’s laws before taking action with any employee.
If you happen to live in a state where you’re required to give employees time off to vote and you violate their rights, you may face penalties. These penalties can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on where you are located. In Texas, for example, employers can face up to a $500 fine for any employee that is refused time off for voting. Under the Texas Election Code, any employer who “subjects such employee to a penalty or deduction of wages because of the exercise of such privilege” will face charges.
In order to avoid penalties in your state, you’ll want to review your employees’ voting rights and apply those rules accordingly.
Giving Employees Enough Time Off to Vote
If you reside in a state where voting leave is required, keep in mind that you must give your employees ample time to vote. You may have to give employees a few hours off or a half-day; however, each state has its own rules, so you’ll want to check with your local labor board to see what your obligations are. In California, for instance, employees can take as much time off as they need to vote, however, only a maximum of two hours is paid. Not only that, but employers can also require employees to take time off at the beginning of their shifts. On the other hand, if you’re an Alaskan voter, you can take as much working time as needed (with full pay) to vote.
In some cases, the law can get a little more complicated. Some states only allow employees to take time off during a certain time of the day. It may also sometimes restrict an employee from taking voting leave if the state believes the worker would have had enough time before or after their shifts to vote. For example, employees in Missouri are allowed to have 3 hours off to vote, however, if that employee has 3 consecutive non-work hours available while polls are open, their employer doesn’t have to allow them voting leave. For a full list of voting leave requirements by state, read this article.
Can I Reduce Their Pay if They Take Time Off to Vote?
This, again, depends on your state’s laws. There are certain instances when an employer can reduce pay or refuse to pay the employee for time off if they violated their voting leave laws. For instance, those who work in Hawaii must show their employers a voter’s receipt. If they do not have a receipt, the employer can deduct hours from their pay. You also must keep in mind that some voting leave requirements only cover an employee’s pay for a few hours. If the employee is gone for more than the allotted time, employers may be excused from having to pay that employee for their absence.
There are certain instances where employees must give their employers advanced notice before leaving to vote. Each state’s law indicates whether verbal or written communication suffices, or if it’s even necessary. Here are the states in which workers must provide some form of advanced notice:
- New York
- West Virginia
Employees in Different Locations
Let’s say that you’re an employer with employees in different states. Typically, the law will tell you that you must refer to the state laws where that employee works. So, if your headquarters are in a state where voting leave is not required, but you have an employee who works in a state where voting leave is required, employers are encouraged to follow whichever rule instructs them to provide time off for voting. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to consult with your labor board, as well as your employee’s labor board, to take the correct actions.
Most people encourage employers to give their employees voting leave no matter where they’re located.
Letting your employees vote is an incredible way to allow them to share their opinions and strengthen democracy. Now more than ever, companies are allowing employees to use their time to go out and vote. This not only shows employees that they’re valued, but it also shows others that you want your workers’ voices to be represented.
As the election approaches, you should review your employees’ voting leave rights to ensure that you’re following the law correctly. In most cases, you have the ability to tell employees when they can and can’t take time off to vote. Some workers are allowed to leave during the beginning of their shift, while others may have to wait until the end of their shift, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. If your employees do need to take time off during the day, make sure that you have enough coverage while they’re out. As a note, make sure that you track their time off properly to ensure that you have their absence on your records.
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