When an Election Day approaches, employers face a combination of choices and requirements around time off to allow employees to vote. Especially when mail-in, early, and absentee votes are offered in most states and a public health crisis can affect people’s comfort level with in-person voting, it’s important for employers to get Election Day accommodations right.
Election Day is not a federal holiday, but several states—California, Hawaii, Colorado, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kentucky, New York, and Massachusetts among them—have enacted statutes that require some amount of time off for voting. Within the private sector, over 1,400 companies have joined forces for “Time to Vote,” in which they commit to making accommodations for employees on Election Day, such as ensuring there are no meetings on that day, providing resources for early voting, and allowing time off to vote.
“Employees have a voice, and smart employers will give them an opportunity to be heard,” said Tracy Cote, Chief People Officer at HR software provider Zenefits—a member of Time to Vote—in an email to The Balance.
Cote noted, “Implementing a paid company holiday or allowing a few hours for people to vote is a benefit that’s not only easy to implement, but one that also demonstrates your company’s commitment, both to employees and the concept of civic responsibility.”
Employer Responsibilities and Obligations
As a first step, companies must familiarize themselves with their Election Day state laws. Whether employers are legally obligated to allow employees specific time off or not, they may consider what their civic responsibilities are when it comes to time off for voting.
Comply With State Laws
Employers should be prepared to accommodate state laws for Election Day time off, which are widely varied. For example, California requires that companies give employees up to two hours off at the start or end of their shift to vote, while Massachusetts mandates that employers give their workers the first two hours the polls are open to cast their ballots. In a few states such as Virginia and Illinois, Election Day is a holiday, while in others, like Michigan, Vermont, and Florida, there are no laws requiring time off to vote.
Consider Company Policy
Some companies are taking Election Day time off as an internal policy. One example is job search site Indeed, which has offered a monthly “company holiday” and has made Election Day the November holiday. Beginning in 2021, the company will implement global Election Holidays.
“We feel that it is important for our employees’ voices to be heard and that they are able to exercise their right to vote,” Indeed Senior Vice President of Human Resources Paul Wolfe said in an email to The Balance. “We have always offered flexibility with our employees and the opportunity to step away from the office to vote, but we felt it was important to take it a step further by offering a day off from work.”
Avoid Discouraging or Influencing Voting
Actions designed to discourage employees from voting or sway their vote are explicitly illegal in many states including Louisiana, North Carolina, and New Jersey.
In an email to The Balance, HR expert Wendy Silver, founder of Boston-area consulting firm Beyond the Workplace, reiterated that employers should not provide an opinion on how employees vote or for whom they vote.
“These are personal decisions, and employers do not want to open themselves to allegations of discrimination based on political beliefs, which are protected in some states, by voicing an opinion for the organization one way or another,” she said.
Be Fair and Reasonable With Accommodations
While you may not be required by law to accommodate time off for Election Day, many employers are offering some opportunity to step away from work to vote in order to encourage employees to do so.
“I am suggesting to clients, assuming they want to be forward thinking, that they at least offer everyone some time off to vote regardless of whether or not they can make the argument that they have reasonable time off outside office hours,” said labor and employee relations attorney Richard Greenberg of law firm Jackson Lewis PC in a phone interview with The Balance.
Practices and Policies
Communicate Policies Clearly
Because the laws vary from state to state and employees may not be aware of whether they will or won’t have time off to vote on Election Day, it’s essential to ensure that your policies are conveyed clearly and in advance so that employees know what to expect.
“Employers should proactively communicate to their workforce any schedule or time limitations that employees may need to consider for business purposes as it may relate to their time off to vote,” Silver said. “Any required process to request the time should be clearly communicated.”
Plan for Scheduling on Election Day
Familiarity with your state’s voting laws can help ensure that you are prepared to schedule employees in accordance with both the law and your company policy when Election Day rolls around.
Be flexible, Silver advised, and think about how you can make voting easier for your employees—not harder.
Ensure a Neutral Environment
Greenberg said that with a tense political climate, it’s more important than ever to monitor the workplace climate and people’s interactions and to ensure that discourse remains professional.
Silver offered similar advice, recommending that companies share talking points in writing around responding to time off requests and talking politics at work—and to do so well in advance of Election Day.
Why It’s Important
While Election Day time off laws vary, the experts and HR representatives interviewed by The Balance universally agreed that providing employees with some accommodations to vote is important not only for morale and company culture, but also for corporations’ roles in our democracy.
“Employees have a voice, and smart employers will give them an opportunity to be heard,” said Zenefits’ Cote. “By guaranteeing employees the opportunity to exercise their civic duty, companies show they value the individual and their community.”
The Bottom Line
While Election Day laws vary from state to state, experts widely agree that employers should be planning for them in advance. If the laws in your state do not reflect your company’s values around participating in a democracy, creating a company policy that allows employees to exercise their right to vote can be highly beneficial—for them and for your business.