The presidential election is fast approaching and the one thing that we can all agree on is… that politics should really never be discussed in the workplace (unless, of course, your workplace is the Senate or House floor, or the White House itself!) Now, what we do want to talk about is the sticky issue of whether you, as a business owner, must give your employees time off this Tuesday, November 3rd so workers can cast their vote.
The short answer is…well, maybe. There is no federal law requiring you to give them time off to go cast their vote, rather it is a decision held by the states. To see how your state falls on the time off to vote rule, we love this interactive map developed by WorkplaceFairness.org. Perhaps even more informative is this listed breakdown from NOLO which tells you not only whether you have to give time off, but how much and if you’re on the hook to pay out for those hours! In addition, they let you know under what conditions these rules go into effect (such as if the employee is working for the duration that polls are open) and if they are required to give notice, and how much, before taking leave.
As would be expected when the states are left in charge, there are a wide variety of rules represented, with some being stricter than others. In Ohio, for example, workers are to be given “reasonable time” to go vote and are eligible for pay while they do so. However, in Nevada, the rules state that where voting can’t be done outside of office hours, an “employee who works 2 miles or less from polling place may take 1 hour [to vote]; 2 to 10 miles, 2 hours; more than 10 miles, 3 hours,” and it’s up to the employer to determine when these hours can be taken. Meanwhile, in Missouri, we’re thinking that people may have abused the time off for voting rule, because state legislators have cracked down and state that paid time off is contingent on proof of their voting, meaning that in this southern state, the ubiquitous “I voted” sticker is worth more than social media credibility! All jokes aside, because the bills are so nuanced and specific to each state, be sure to check the rules for each state in which you have employees actively working so that you don’t run afoul of the voting rules.
The other factor to consider, however, is peer pressure. This year, a whopping 600 companies have joined the Time to Vote coalition. Per the organization’s website, Time to Vote is a “nonpartisan, business-led initiative to help ensure employees across America don’t have to choose between voting and earning a paycheck.” As to what they recommend in terms of accommodating voting PTO, the group recommends providing employees with “access to and information about early voting or vote-by-mail options, offering paid time off on Election Day, or making it a day without meetings” to allow maximum participation. Some companies, such as Patagonia, have opted to shutter their stores and distribution centers for the day, while Walmart is giving all store associates scheduled to work during polling hours a three-hour paid window of time to cast their vote.
What the companies participating in Time to Vote demonstrate is that enabling employees to vote does not have to mean that you have a mass exodus on election day. Rather, if you share information about early voting, encourage vote by mail (in states where applicable), shuffle around some not-so-important meetings, and are able to staff accordingly and stagger time slots so that staff are able to vote on November 3rd, you can still have a productive business day with minimal interruption. Providing time to vote also shows your employees that you are supportive of their work-life balance, since voting is viewed as an important civic responsibility and is a particularly tense endeavor this year in light of lingering concerns about Covid-19 and safety at the polls.