THINKING OUTSIDE THE BALLOT BOX: VOTING LAWS VARY BY STATE

The end is near! With the approach of Election Day on Nov. 8, the seemingly interminable period of political campaigning will finally culminate in a day at the polls.

For many HR managers, a major focus at the end of this long process will be abiding by the applicable requirements for voting leave and satisfying any election-related obligations that go beyond giving employees time off to cast their ballots.

There’s no federal law requiring private employers to grant voting leave, but most states do have such requirements. State laws on voting leave typically guarantee a period of two or three hours to participate in elections at the federal and state level. The right to take paid leave generally applies to those employees whose work schedules overlap with polling hours.

With the trend toward longer polling hours in many states, employers can usually ensure that employees have enough time to vote without taking leave. A key step will be to look at work schedules in advance of Nov. 8 to see if employees will have at least two or three hours available for casting their ballots before the start or after the end of their shifts. Employees wouldn’t be entitled to paid leave if they already have ample off-duty hours to get to the polls while they’re open.

Recognizing the disruption that could occur in a business should a large number of employees wish to vote at the same time, most states allow employers to designate the hours for voting leave. In addition, the laws commonly require employees to submit a written request for voting leave prior to the day of the election. As an added requirement, several states stipulate that employees who take leave must provide their employers with proof that they actually voted.

Because the laws vary, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements in your state. Regarding the amount of leave, for example, some laws impose a rather vague obligation to allow "sufficient time" to vote, whereas others are more particular. In Massachusetts, employers can’t require an employee to work during the first two hours that the polls are open in the employee’s precinct (provided the employee submitted the proper voting leave request).

In Nevada, the leave entitlement increases with distance. Employees are allowed one hour of voting leave if the workplace is within two miles of their polling place, two hours if the workplace is between two and 10 miles from their polling place, and three hours if the distance exceeds 10 miles.

Additional Obligations

State laws don’t just cover time off for voting. For instance, Illinois, Kentucky and Nebraska require employers to grant employees leave if they’re serving as election officials. Other provisions focus on keeping employers from exerting pressure on employees or otherwise interfering with their freedom to support the political candidates of their choice. Here are a few examples: 

  • In Alabama, employers can’t reduce employees’ wages to influence their vote in any election. Employers also can’t require inspection of their employees' ballots.
  • In Delaware, employers can’t use bribery to influence employees in the way they exercise their voting rights.
  • In Louisiana, employers can’t fire workers because of their political opinions, they can’t adopt policies governing employees’ political activities or affiliations, and they can’t bar employees from participating in politics or running for public office.
  • In South Carolina, employers can’t assault or intimidate employees or eject them from the workplace because of their political opinions or exercise of political rights.

As Election Day draws near, how can employers best prepare? My vote is that you consult reliable information covering the applicable state laws, and then let your employees exercise the right—and privilege—of participating in the democratic process.

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