Let Your (Employee’s) Voice Be Heard? Giving Employees Time Off to Vote

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Everyone is talking about voting options — absentee ballots, early voting, and, of course, the traditional going to the polls on election day. With the presidential election on November 3, you may be thinking about giving your employees time off to be a part of the democratic process and vote.

So, must you give employees time off to vote? While federal law does not require voting leave, some states do. The amount of time off required, if any, can vary drastically state to state. To complicate matters further, some states require paid time off to vote. You should make sure you are up to date on the law in states in which you have employees to avoid both unhappy employees and potential penalties. Below are some of the laws in the southeastern states to help you determine how much time should be given to employees for voting purposes.

States with a Notice Requirement or Option

Some states require an employee to give the employer notice, but then the employer must permit some amount of time off for voting. In general, it depends on when the employee’s work shift starts and stops in relation to the polls being open.

  • Up to one hour unpaid in Alabama – An employee must be given up to one hour off of work to vote, so long as (1) reasonable notice is given to the employer and (2) his or her shift makes it hard to get to the polls (i.e., starts within the first two hours the polls are open and ends in the last hour before the polls close). The employer may specify the time in which the employee may leave to vote. However, the employer does not have to give voting leave if the employee’s workday commences at least two hours after the polls open or the workday ends at least one hour prior to the polls closing.
  • District of Columbia – D.C. enacted a new law this year requiring employers to provide employees at least two hours of paid leave to vote. You may require your employees to request the leave a “reasonable time in advance,” and you may specify the hours during which employees may take the leave.
  • Up to two hours in Georgia – If the employee gives reasonable notice, Georgia requires necessary time off, not to exceed two hours, for voting. Currently, you do not have to give time off if the employee’s workday commences at least two hours after the polls open or ends at least two hours prior to the polls closing.
  • Not less than four hours in Kentucky – An employee in Kentucky must request leave for voting prior to the day he or she votes either by absentee voting (because the law requires an absentee voter to appear before the county clerk) or on election day. If an employee applies for leave, the employer must permit a reasonable time, but not less than four hours, for the employee to go vote. The employer may determine the hours in which the employee may leave to vote.
  • Not more than three paid hours in Tennessee – Employees in Tennessee must request time off to vote no later than 12:00 p.m. on the day before the election. If that request is made, the employer must provide the employee with a reasonable period of time necessary to vote, but the time should not exceed three hours. Further, the employer does not have to give time off if the employee’s workday begins three or more hours after the polls open or ends three or more hours before the polls close.

States Without a Notice Requirement

Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas do not have notice requirements, but each state requires employers to grant employees time off to make their voice heard at the polls.

  • Arkansas – An employer must schedule an employee’s work hours on election day so that the employee will have an opportunity to vote. The law does not specify how much time is necessary for compliance.
  • Mississippi – An employee may be allowed vacation or leave of absence at the expense of the employer for the necessary time to cast his or her vote. The law does not require notice or specify the length of necessary time to cast a vote.
  • Texas – The state code does not specify how much time should be given off but does prohibit an employer from refusing to permit time off from work to vote. The Texas Workforce Commission interpreted the law to require an employer to provide paid time off to vote, unless the employee has sufficient time, meaning at least two consecutive hours outside of the employee’s working hours, to vote.

States Without a Voting Time-Off Law

FloridaLouisianaNorth CarolinaSouth Carolina, and Virginia currently have no laws requiring employers to provide employees time off to vote. However, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina laws prohibit employers from disciplining, discharging, or threatening to discharge employees for reasons relating to voting (see each state’s law for the specifics on that here). And in Louisiana, no employer with 20 or more employees shall forbid or prevent any employees from engaging or participating in politics.

What Does This Mean?

Generally, if an employee asks for time off to vote, see if you can work it out.

  • Talk to employees about when the polls open and point out that they should have time to vote before or after their shift (assuming that is true).
  • Consider whether changing your work hours on election day may avoid a conflict. If that does not work for your business, then consider allowing employees time during the day to go vote.
  • If employees push back about time off, look at your state law to decide just how much time you have to give them to vote and whether you have to pay them.
  • Be sure that your conversations with employees are neutral and no one thinks you are only enabling employees to vote if you like their politics.

Use this as an opportunity to show your employees you support their right to vote. As always, if you have questions, call your friendly neighborhood employment counsel.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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