According to a recent study of the upcoming 2020 election by Pew Research, voters are highly engaged this year but nearly half expect difficulties when it’s time to cast their ballot. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unique demand for voter and poll worker safety and paved the way for many states to increase early and mail-in voting programs. Forty-four states are allowing mail-in voting. And early voting turnout has been breaking 2016 election levels in terms of both numbers and long wait times. That’s why many people are predicting that employees will need more time off to vote this year on November 3rd—Election Day.
Though Election Day is not a federal holiday, nine states and two U.S. territories recognize it as a public holiday. Thirty states require that employers provide paid time off to allow employees to vote. Additionally, more than 1,500 U.S employers have joined the nonpartisan Time to Vote movement to increase voter participation so employees “don’t have to choose between voting and earning a paycheck.” These employers, regardless of state mandates, have committed to provide voting resources to employees, offer paid time off on Election Day, and more.
Many employers will want to take additional steps to help support employees’ ability to vote in this consequential national election. First, employers need to learn how to comply with individual states’ laws on voting. Failure to do so could result in fines. Next, to address employee concerns about voting safely this year, it’s important to create or revise company’s policies surrounding Election Day—especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, employers will want to minimize any barriers to employee voting.
Employer trends point to more flexibility for voting
Many employers recognize that employees may need more time to vote this year than in previous elections due to predicted increases in voter turnout and longer wait times due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Though most state laws require employers to provide at least two hours of paid or unpaid leave to cast a ballot, that might not be enough time this year—even if an employee participates in early voting. This is leading some employers to offer more flexibility by increasing time off hours or granting a full day. A number of industry experts have pointed out that employers showing empathy during this time will earn employee loyalty.
Additionally, as part of the Time to Vote movement, many companies are giving employees access to virtual resources about early voting and vote by mail options, which could possibly serve to limit the need for time off on Election Day. Other forward-thinking businesses including Old Navy and Target are giving employees paid time off to volunteer as poll workers since many older people who typically do the job are planning to stay home this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
What are an employer’s legal obligations?
While many employers are providing unprecedented support for employees to go to the polls, it’s also important for businesses to be aware of their state laws and legal obligations. Offering paid time off is more straightforward in those states that recognize Election Day as a holiday—those states are Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, and Virginia. However, there are still some businesses that must remain open and therefore a strategy for allowing time off is needed.
Laws governing time off for elections vary widely by state which is why it’s important to understand your legal responsibilities. Here are some common obligations that appear in many state laws:
Most states prevent an employer from firing or disciplining an employee for taking time off to vote. Some states require advance notice of an employee’s intention to vote and others do not. However employers in some states are allowed to ask for proof that time was actually used to cast a ballot.
A few states, California for example, require employers to keep employees informed of their legal right to time off for voting.
States that have laws allowing time off can impose penalties on employers that don’t comply. The penalties vary widely: New York and Colorado businesses that prevent a worker from voting could lose their corporate charter while employers in Arizona could be fined up to $20,000.
Tips for navigating employee voting in 2020
It’s important to maintain compliance. However, regardless of the legal requirements in your state, employers should want to promote civic involvement and support employee participation in the voting process to enhance employee satisfaction. Supporting voting rights is an excellent way to demonstrate that your company values its employees and is a great place to work.
Here are three things HR can do now to help your company and employees navigate the voting process:
Review state voting laws applicable to your company. Visit vote.org to learn specific voting rules for all fifty states including deadlines, dates, rules, and recent changes made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evaluate company policies, including your employee handbook, to determine if and how voting is addressed. Make appropriate updates including adding more time and flexibility for long lines at the polls. Make accommodations for people who want to participate in early voting—some people may want to take a different day off to cast their ballot. Make sure your policies account for employees who are still in remote teleworking arrangements.
Consider adding policies that provide additional support for employees. For example, minimize the barriers to voting by declaring a “no meeting” day on Election Day—and consider including the day after Election Day as well since many employees have strong feelings about politics and any negative results could impact productivity. If you do this, be sure to clearly communicate work priorities for the remainder of the week to refocus your staff.
Strengthen voting policies for 2020 and beyond
If you want to update your policies regarding employee time-off for voting and need help crafting the right policy, Asure can help. Asure provides software and expert HR services to help your business build a great team, support the people in your organization, and ensure compliance.