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Time-Off to Vote?

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 10/30/2008
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Our company, which has offices in 11 states, has received numerous inquiries from employees regarding our time-off policy for the purpose of voting in the upcoming general election. Is there a single law with national applicability that governs how employers must accommodate employees wishing to take time off from work to vote?

No. Although a citizen's general right to vote is established by federal law, the manner in which employers must accommodate employees wishing to take time off from work to vote is governed by state law. Unfortunately, since states are left to establish their own voting accommodation standards, there are significant differences in how employees may exercise their voting rights. For example, the time allotted to employees wishing to vote can vary from Nevada's "sufficient time," to Ohio's "reasonable time," or to Alabama's "one hour." Although Minnesota's statute does not set an express limit on the amount of time that an employee can take off to vote, it does provide that an employee has the right to be absent from work for the purpose of voting "during the morning of the day of that election." In some states, if the polls are open for a minimum period of time before the employee's regular shift begins, or if they remain open for a minimum period of time after the employee's shift ends, then the employee is not entitled to time off from work to vote. For example, in Georgia, an employee does not have the right to vote during his or her work hours if the polls are open for at least two hours before or two hours after the employee's regular work hours.

Other relevant issues include whether employees must be paid for the time they take off from work to vote and whether employees must give employers notice before taking time off to vote. However, some states have not enacted any laws addressing an employee's right to take time off from work to vote. Such a lack of uniformity among the states increases the likelihood that an employer will unwittingly violate an employee's right to vote. This is particularly relevant in cases involving employers that operate in several states because these employers may be required to afford their employees different rights depending on the state in which the employees work. Since the right to vote is widely regarded as fundamental, any violation of this right, even if unintentional, may be considered a serious legal infraction. Therefore, employers should consult with a licensed attorney before implementing a policy on an employee's right to take time off from work to vote.

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Categories: 2008, Human Resources

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