This article was updated on July 31, 2018.
Voting is a sacred privilege in a representative democracy like the United States, but millions of people fail to exercise that right during elections. The push to recognize Election Day each November as a federal holiday has failed to become codified into federal law. However, a few dozen states have mandates to offer paid or unpaid time off for citizens to visit the polls. Consider how your organization's PTO policy for voting can help ensure optimized voter turnout each election cycle.
Be Mindful of Polling Hours
Many state protected time-off statutes pertaining to voting revolve around the hours that polls are open. According to FindLaw, paid time off is necessary for employees who do not have several consecutive hours before or after their shifts during legal voting hours. Covered employees in those states who typically work a 9-to-5 shift may not be entitled to voting leave if polls are open well before or well after their shift, but employees in industries where 12-hour work days are the norm may likely be eligible for voting leave, thus employers in these jurisdictions should be mindful of state requirements. Remember that state law sets the minimum threshold for voting availability.
Consider Posting Voting Notices
Some states, like California, require that specific notices be posted within the workplace, denoting to employees what their rights are regarding voting leave, according to FindLaw. This type of mandate can help ensure that employees have sufficient notice to know who is eligible for leave, the duration of leave, whether it is paid or unpaid and whether advanced notice is required. While not every state requires notice, it is a best practice to communicate any voting leave policies to employees.
Address Possible Overtime
Generally, employers are not required to count vacation time, leave or other personal time as hours worked for the purposes of counting toward overtime (unless, of course, a state statute requires the leave to count as hours worked).
Texas specifically addresses the topic of overtime and how this time should be determined. According to an opinion letter noted in the Texas Workforce Commission, employees who are required to work overtime may be paid at the rate that would have been applied during the time missed while they cast their vote. For voluntary overtime, however, no pay is required, as that time is outside of normal working hours, and the employee voluntarily chose to work.
As you craft your internal policy, consider how voting leave corresponds with other paid (or unpaid) time off policies and how to comply with your state's requirements in unique situations, such as employees who work mandatory overtime.
Support Early and Mail-In Voting
The Washington Post reports that during the 2014 midterm elections, 28 percent of registered voters said they were too busy to vote. A majority of states have legalized early voting regulations, giving up to several weeks of time before election day when voters can cast ballots. This often allows for workers to find plenty of nonworking hours, including weekend hours, to exercise voting privileges outside of normal workday hours. In addition, citizens in nearly every locale can request absentee or mail-in ballots and vote that way. Even though states have early voting options, employers shouldn't be doing anything to encourage or suggest that employees take advantage of these options as to avoid taking advantage of voting leave entitlements.
By developing a PTO policy for voting, you are doing what you can to give employees the flexibility they need to decide whether to exercise their right to vote.
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