With campaigns for the upcoming elections capturing voter interest, time-off for voting – and how that time-off affects attendance on the job – are issues that are being raised in many workplaces. In 31 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, employers must allow employees time off to get to polling places and cast votes and, in certain states, face fines for not doing so. See CCH’s annual list of such states. The remaining 19 states, including Pennsylvania, afford no specific rights or protections to an employee who takes time off to vote during work hours.
State wage and hour laws typically address the rights of an employer to take disciplinary action against employees or to withhold wages for time not worked. For the most part, states in which time-off for voting is mandated require that employees who are registered voters be given time off to visit the polls, and usually require employers to allow two or three hours within which to do that. Some of the state laws include provisions that require employers to allow time-off to vote only in circumstances in which there is not a two or three hour period during non-working hours in which polls are open, creating a level of administrative complexity normally dreaded by HR personnel.
In some states – specifically Kansas and Missouri – an employer can be fined for up to $2500 and/or up to a year in jail for attempting to circumvent the state law; in California, the fine can be up to $5000. In Arizona, it’s worse: the fine can be as high as $10,000 for an “enterprise” that violates the state’s law. Unlawful coercion related to voting is an expensive proposition for employers foolish enough to try it. California, Maryland, and Nebraska include jail time for that offense – in Nebraska, the penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 and/or jail for up to five years.
In most states with time-off laws for voting, 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. The majority of those states also require employees to give some type of advance notice of their intention to take time-off from work to vote (some require the notice to be in writing), and most allow employers to specify the time within which the time-off hours can be taken.
Although these state laws regarding voting rights do not come into play very often, it is wise for employers to be familiar with them, to assure consistent compliance for all employees in states within which such laws apply. Failure to do so could lead to unnecessary fines and penalties.