Employers have no legal obligation under federal law to enable their employees to vote in an election. Depending on their state or local jurisdiction’s requirements, however, employers may or may not have legal responsibilities to allow Election Day time off.
Some state laws require employers to provide employees with paid time off (PTO) to vote, while other states do not. Laws also differ as to the amount of time off required and whether the employer can designate the hours available for employee voting such as at the start or end of the workday. Some jurisdictions require the employer to post legal information about employees’ rights to voting in advance of an election. For example, New York requires posting not less than 10 working days before every election through the closing of the polls.
Meanwhile, other states such as Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia have no legal requirements. Employers are free to make policy decisions about Election Day time off in these states, including whether to ask employees to take an unpaid holiday.
Regardless of your legal requirements, employers have ethical, moral, and civic responsibilities to their employees in all matters that relate to Election Day.
Your most important consideration in developing policies and practices relating to Election Day matters is to prepare in advance for employee questions and requests. Enabling employee civic commitment is not a core responsibility of your business, but like corporate social philanthropy and doing good for the benefit of your community via volunteerism, your decisions demonstrate that you are an employer of choice for superior employees.
So, use the models in other states and jurisdictions as guides, but develop your own policy for your employee handbook so your employees know where you stand. You might also consider modeling your policy on those of employers who have joined the “Time to Vote” movement. This nonpartisan effort aims to “contribute to the culture shift needed to increase voter participation in our country's elections” and is led by CEOs representing notable companies including Best Buy, Deloitte, Farmer’s Insurance, HP, JPMorgan Chase, Levi’s, Patagonia, Target, and Walmart.
Employer Responsibilities and Obligations
Employers have to consider both the legal issues and the employee morale and motivation implications when they develop their company approach to Election Day time off.
Compliance With State Laws
No matter what else an employer decides to do about allowing employees to take time away from work to vote, their first obligation is to follow any laws that their state or jurisdiction has passed. Most states have some variation that allows employees to take time off, and you can refer to these guidelines online.
Avoid Discouraging or Swaying Voting
Employees have a right to vote for any candidate that they choose and for whatever reasons that are important to them. Political discussion at work is not recommended, especially at a time when America has become increasingly polarized. Managers, especially, should avoid taking any political position that might make an employee feel uncomfortable or as if they do not belong. The organization as a whole has the obligation to foster both diversity and inclusion, so taking any political position is never recommended.
Why Employers Should Accommodate Employee Requests
While you may not be legally obligated as an employer, it’s fair and reasonable to accommodate employee Election Day time off requests. Employees have difficulty getting to the polls when they have family, pet, and other obligations that tend to take over at the beginning and ending of their day. While some employees live at such a distance that allowing them to arrive late after voting on their way to work is the best option, others may need the time during the day due to child care closing times and other life situations.
Making a small accommodation such as this can add up to big morale boosts for your employees who feel that you care about their needs.
Practices and Policies
How Much Time Off to Allow
When you allow time off from work so employees can vote, 1-2 hours is usually sufficient if employees are voting during the day. If you ask the employees to vote on their way to work, 1-2 hours should also suffice. In the spirit of providing a supportive work environment, PTO is recommended. Requiring that they take an employee holiday, a personal day, or unpaid time off to vote can be counterproductive.
Scheduling Employees on Election Day
For your salaried employees, this accommodation is easy. Just make an announcement that any salaried employee who wants to take time off to vote should do so at their convenience. If the salaried job is customer facing where a person in attendance is required, ask your employees to arrange coverage among themselves. Or, ask the department manager to establish a schedule so employees can sign up to take the time off to vote.
In the case of hourly employees, your best option may be to ask them to vote on their way to work. This would allow coverage of workstations that are dependent on others, which is often the case with nonexempt employees. In other cases, ask the department manager to establish a similar schedule for employees to sign up for time off.
You can provide training in all aspects of managerial discretion about political topics and Election Day time off just as you would also train managers to deal with issues such as harassment. Make Election Day protocol part of your mandatory HR training, so it’s given the same importance as other topics that influence your employees’ morale and motivation and fulfill your organization’s legal obligations.
Providing Notice to Employees
If your goal as an employer is to help foster civic responsibility in your employees as the companies in “Time to Vote” recommend, provide a 10-day notice to your workers about when Election Day will occur. You can do this using your normal methods of communicating across your organization via electronic communication boards or all company off-topic emails. You can also add Election Day to your organization’s shared calendar. You will also want to make certain that all of your company policies relating to politics and Election Day are stated in your employee handbook.
Why Election Day Time Off Is Important
Allowing time off for employees to vote can provide short- and long-term benefits to workplace culture, morale, and organizational success. Allowing time off for employee voting is a small price to pay for an organizational perk that sets you apart as an employer that employees want to work for. All of the following factors are affected by the daily decisions you make—including about Election Day—for the workplace you provide to your employees:
- Developing a sense of inclusivity when all employees are given the opportunity to perform their civic duty
- Driving recruiting efforts to attract the best employees
- Building company brand affinity that makes your organization one that people want to work for
- Assisting with your efforts to retain your best employees
- Maintaining loyalty from employees who feel you care about their needs
- Helping employees experience the workplace flexibility they most want
- Promoting your workplace as a supporter of work-life balance
The Bottom Line
Allowing your employees to take Election Day time off, especially PTO, is the action of an employer who is committed to the well-being of their employees. For all of the reasons covered, this is a perk that you need to add to your employee satisfaction toolkit. It’s affordable, it’s kind, it’s easy, and it says you care.