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October 27, 2020 | Human Resources | Posted by Ascentis

What is Required of Employers on Election Day?

Election Day is always an exciting, important, and complicated event for employers. In 2020, those adjectives are only magnified. As with nearly every other aspect of the working world, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses to reassess their plans for employee voting. Since the rules and requirements for that process vary widely from state to state, now is the time for any employer who doesn’t have a plan in place to study up on what’s expected of them. 

Know Your Requirements 

Despite an ongoing movement to make Election Day a national holiday, at this point there is no federal requirement to give workers the day off, or even any time off. Most states, however, have some kind of law on the books classifying voting as guaranteed time off. In some places time off is treated similarly to a holiday, while in other cases employers can require workers to take paid time off to go to the polls. 

The amount of time allotted for voting and the penalties for noncompliance vary widely from state to state. In New York and Colorado, for instance, a business that doesn’t allow its employees time off for voting can be stripped of its corporate charter. Most states’ penalties are a bit less harsh, but many still carry a potential for heavy fines. Some states levy fines only against the noncompliant company, while in others a supervisor who impedes an employee’s voting efforts can be held personally liable. 

Regardless of what is legally required in your state, it is generally advisable to accommodate your workers’ desire to cast their votes. Free and fair elections in the United States are held up as a sacred right, and it’s rather a bad look for an employer to interfere with that process. In the social media era, the potential damage to the reputation of an employer that won’t grant time off for voting is probably not worth the few hours of productivity you’ll get in return.  

How is this Year Different? 

This year’s election presents some unique challenges for employers. For starters, many employees are working from home. Theoretically, this would actually make voting less of an interruption in the workday, since most people’s polling places are physically closer to their residences than they are to their workplaces. Because nothing is quite as easy as it could be in 2020, however, in-person voting is expected to be a longer process than usual.  

Most polling places are taking significant physical precautions against the spread of coronavirus. The CDC has created a lengthy document advising election volunteers and voters on how to conduct themselves, and most states have put out similar guidelines. While those safety measures are certainly necessary, they will likely make the voting process more time-consuming. Complicating matters further, some states have sharply reduced the number of available voting locations on the grounds of limiting potential COVID-19 exposure. In those areas, the voting process will probably take even longer, especially since voter turnout is projected to reach its highest levels in more than 100 years 

Does that mean that employers should plan for their workforce to be largely unavailable on November 3? Not necessarily. Due largely to concerns about COVID-19, mail-in and early voting is also seeing a historic spike in numbers. While there will probably still be long lines at polling places, there is also a strong possibility that many employees will have cast their ballots well before Election Day.  

One final note: however your workplace approaches employee voting this year, bear in mind that this will be arguably the most contentious and closely watched election in recent memory. Avoiding Election Day distractions may be easier said than done for many of your workers, so it may behoove you to plan accordingly. For additional Election Day information, check out our on-demand webinar, “Let’s Talk Politics! Legally Managing Political Expression in an Election Year”.