Election Day is finally upon us. By now, you’ve likely made up your mind about who you are going to vote for, but the decision whether to give your employees paid time off to vote may still be up in the air. You may be wondering what you’re legally bound to do. Unfortunately the answer isn’t so simple.
Just as the country is split on which candidate is best suited for the White House, it’s also divided in its approach to voting leave. There is no federal law that entitles workers to time off, but depending on where you live, you may need to allow it in certain circumstances. This is an area of the law dealt with on a state-by-state basis, even during national presidential elections.
More than half the states require that employers provide time off to vote and most of those states require that the leave be paid. For many, the employer may require that the employee ask for advance notice and that the leave be taken at a certain time during the workday. The laws in some states even allow you to require proof of voting and the option to penalize employees who are unable to produce such proof.
The Workplace Fairness organization breaks it down by state. Laws are as varied as the candidate’s positions on important issues. While some are very clear-cut, others are open to interpretation. Here are a sampling to illustrate the differences:
Arizona Voting Leave Law
If an employee does not have three consecutive hours available while polls are open at the beginning or end of their shift, the employer is required to give them paid time off to vote. Employers can face up to $2,500 if they interfere with someone voting and their company can be fined as much as $20,000.
California Voting Leave Law
Employers must allow their workers up to two hours at the beginning or end of their shift, which must be paid. Employees must give notice two working days prior to the election. The California Elections Code also requires employers to post a notice, no less than 10 days before every statewide election, explaining the policy in a conspicuous place at the work site.
Massachusetts Voting Leave Law
Employers are required to give employees two hours off to vote, but it can be unpaid.
New York Voting Leave Law
Employees are allowed as much time at the beginning or end of their shift as will give them time to vote and employers are required to pay them, up to two hours. Advance notice may be required (not more than ten or less than two working days before the election). Failure to comply with these laws means the employer could lose their corporate charter.
Texas Voting Leave Law
This is one of the states where the laws are fairly ambiguous. An employer may not refuse to allow an employee to take time off, but no time limit is specified. This time must be paid, yet no advance notice or proof of voting may be required.
At the very minimum, you should ensure you are adhering to state rules. Even in states where there is no specific voting leave law (like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida, just to name a few), it is good practice to allow your employees up to two hours of paid time off to vote. It’s also in your best interest to create a supportive environment that encourages your employees’ right to vote. Refuse and you’ll likely see your approval ratings plummet in the polls.