How Do I... Get or Give Time Off to Vote?
Election Day is fast approaching and for many of the smallest firms that means juggling staff schedules on Nov. 4 to give employees the ability to cast their ballots.
"As good employers, you want your employees to be active in the community and part of that activism involves voting," said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business's legal center. She recommends that small firms encourage employees to register and encourage them to vote.
There are no federal laws requiring a business to give employees time off to vote, but many states do.
For example, in the District of Columbia, there's no law requiring an employer to give time off to vote, but in Maryland an employee may have two hours paid leave and must provide proof that he or she voted to receive pay for the time. In Virginia, there's also no law requiring time off, but there is a law that prevents employers from firing or charging sick or vacation leave for employees who serve as election officers, provided the employee gave reasonable notice.
Many states offer basic guidelines. For example, if polls are open two or three hours before or after employees' normal work hours, the employer may not be obligated to provide time off to vote, according to Harned. Additionally, most employers may not include lunch periods as part of the voting time off permitted. For a list of policies in your state compiled by NFIB, click here (pdf).
While your state law may not mandate paid time off, there's nothing prohibiting a business from implementing a voting policy offering employees greater flexibility or privileges than what the law requires, Harned said.
She said a business owner should consider sending a notice of the voting day policy by e-mail to employees or post it somewhere where everyone can see it. "The key element is that whatever the state law requires you to do, make sure your policy meets that and make sure if you're flexible for one person that you're flexible for all the others. The key is consistency."
NFIB's political department offers a free video and handbook for small business owners on how to discuss issues and elections with employees. The handbook offers a list of "dos" such as "do base all of your information on the facts surrounding an election or issue and not on your personal views" and "don'ts" such as "don't tell your employees who to vote for."
NFIB's legal center also offers a $40 book Model Employee Handbook for Small Business, which includes a model "voting time off" policy. The book is free for members.
By Sharon McLoone |
October 16, 2008; 2:45 PM ET
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