Do You Have to Give Employees Time Off to Vote?

People across the country – and overseas – are holding their breath as the 2012 presidential election rolls up fast on November 6th. Individuals and businesses seem to feel that the stakes are higher than ever as we wait to see who will be the next occupant of the Oval Office. Your employees may be eager to cast their ballots, but what if their work schedules make it impossible to get to the polls? Is it up to you to see that they have time off to vote, even if it disrupts productivity and leaves you short-handed?

There is no federal law that addresses this issue, which means you need to find out what your state requires. More than half of the states specifically address the question of allowing time off to vote. Here are some of the ways these states deal with this issue.

  • Many states say that employees are only entitled to time off if the polls are not open long enough – before or after – an employee’s shift for that person to vote on his or her own time.
  • Other states are more specific, stipulating that employees are entitled to time off to vote if the polls are not open for at least two hours before or after the employees’ work shifts.
  • In states such as Tennessee and Nevada, employees must ask for time off in advance, no later than the day before the election. Tennessee specifies that leave must be requested by the day before the election by noon. Others, like New York do the same, but the request must be made at least two and no more than 10 days before the election.
  • Kentucky allows up to a generous four hours for voting, though the time is unpaid.
  • North Dakota encourages employers to allow time off to vote, but this is voluntary.
  • Where advance permission is required, the requests may have to be in writing.
  • And where time off to vote is mandatory, generally employers cannot count the employee’s lunch hour as part of that time off.
  • Then there are states that have paid-time-off laws. Minnesota has a fairly new “Time Off to Vote” law which gives workers the right to take enough time to leave work, go to the polling place and cast their votes and return to work. The law states that this can happen any time during the work day, subject to employer approval. Likewise in California if an employee’s shift is such that there is not time to get to the poll before or after the shift, the employee can have up to two hours of paid time off to vote, however, the employer must be given at least two days advance notice.

What if Your Company Fails to Meet Your Obligations?

Again, the answer depends on your state. In New York, the penalty can range from $100 to $500 and/or jail time of up to one year for the first offense. Corporations that fail to comply may also forfeit their charter. Texas charges fines up to $500 for violations.