Employee voting rights: Time to review your policies

Now is the time for employers to review and update policies and procedures for giving employees time off to cast their ballots on November 4.

While there are no federal laws mandating businesses to give employees time off from work to vote, many states require it. By fully understanding the employee voting rights in your state, you will know the best way to handle the barrage of questions and requests coming your way in the next two weeks.

Most state voting laws require businesses to adhere to the following rules:

  • If voting polls are open for two or more hours before or after employees’ normal working hours, the employer is not required to give paid time off.
  • Employers have the right to ask for written request from employees for time off to vote.
  • Employers may designate a certain time when employees are permitted to take time off to vote.
  • Lunch periods may not be included as part of the time off designated for voting.
  • Employees may not be disciplined or retaliated against for taking time off to vote.

There is no rule prohibiting businesses from giving employees more flexibility or privileges that what the law mandates.

Since most state laws only refer to voting on Election Day, you may run into some confusion when employees ask for time off to vote early. The best practice would be to allow an employee to vote early in the same way you would allow them time off to vote on Election Day, according to John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law blog.

He gives two reasons for this best practice:

“Every state’s public policy is to encourage voting in elections. If you deny an employee’s request to take time off to vote (even if there’s a technical basis for doing this given the specific language in your state statute), you could violate your state’s public policy. And even if you don’t, you probably don’t want to become, particularly this year, the poster child for employers who make it difficult for their employees to vote. Voting is a hot button issue, and the media would likely give a lot of publicity to this kind of situation.”

Another good practice to consider following is to send a notice explaining your company’s voting day policy to employees through e-mail and post it for those employees without e-mail access at least a week before Election Day.

Be knowledgeable of the time off for voting laws in your state and make sure your organization’s policy matches up. Ensure all managers are following the policy consistently - if you’re flexible for one employee, extend the same flexibility to every employee.

Phillips has compiled a list of voting time off laws by state at The Word on Employment Law blog. For more information on the voting rules in your state, contact your state labor department.

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