Election day is right around the corner, and the heated presidential race is sparking voter interest. The question of just how the right to vote squares with the right of an employer to expect attendance on the job is likely to be raised in many workplaces. And while federal law does not require time off for employees to vote, state laws have much to say on the topic.
According to the laws on the books, voting is more than a personal civic duty. In more than half of states, voting takes legal precedence over work, and employers must allow employees time off to cast their ballots. Typically, time-off-to-vote laws require that employees who are registered voters be given time off from work--usually up to two or three hours--in which to visit the polls.
In many cases, time off from work is only required if the employee does not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote. Note though, the availability of the option of early voting or voting-by-mail doesn't necessarily relieve an employer from the requirement of providing an employee time away from work to vote.
States strike a balance
Laws governing time off to vote can be found in a majority of the states. While federal law protects a citizen's right to vote, it is an individual state law that arbitrates between that right and the rights of employers to discipline workers or withhold pay for time not worked. Many of these rules are trying to strike a balance between the interests of the employee and of the employer.
In almost half of the states, employees must be paid for time spent voting: employers are prohibited from penalizing an employee or making deductions from wages for at least part of the time the employee is authorized to be absent from work to cast a vote. A handful of states spell out in their statutes that workers will be paid for their time off only if they actually vote, although in one state, it's sufficient for employees to establish that they attempted to vote.
Many states require employees to give advance notice of their intention to take time off, and the notification may be required to be in writing. In addition, employers are allowed to specify the hours to be taken for voting in just under half the states.
A wide range of penalties apply for non-complying employers
The fines and penalties for employers who violate time-off-to-vote laws vary greatly from state to state. For example, some states don't specify a penalty for violating time-off-to-vote laws or impose minimal fines starting as low as $25, while other states fine individual employers thousands of dollars, with even higher fines assessed for corporations.Warning
Another penalty for violating time-off-to-vote laws is that businesses can forfeit their corporate charters if found in violation. And unlawful coercion of an employee's vote can bring especially stiff penalties: fines that range as high as $10,000, not to mention the possibility of jail time.
Minimize Disruption by Planning for Voting Time-Off
We know that you want to encourage employees to exercise their important right to vote, but understandably want to limit the disruption to your business as well as avoid running afoul of the law.
Finally, to all the busy small business owners out there: make sure that your voting plans include casting your own vote!