Exercising The Right To Time Off To Vote

Food & Drink

Many food and hospitality businesses are incentivizing workers to vote. But, how does the law protect workers who are forced to choose between working and voting?

Encouraging Civic Engagement

Hospitality organizations of all sizes are encouraging employees to get out and vote. Examples include paid time off to vote, employee and customer voter registration initiatives, closing operations on Election Day, and free meals to poll workers. The encouragement is consistent across non-restaurant employers too. And, it has shown to make a difference.

Schedule Conflicts Suppressing The Vote

A Pew Research Center survey from the last national election shows several reasons Americans decided to not vote:

“While a dislike of the candidates or issues was the most frequently cited reason for not voting, other top reasons included a lack of interest or a feeling that their vote wouldn’t make a difference (15%), being too busy or having a conflicting schedule (14%), having an illness or disability (12%) and being out of town or away from home (8%)….”

Even so, a recent survey of HR professionals reveals that still less than half of businesses offer workers any time off to vote:

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  • Paid Time To Vote. 45% of large organizations (500+ employees) said they are offering paid time off for voting, compared to 43% of medium organizations (100-499 employees), and 55% of small organizations (1-99 employees).
  • Unpaid Time To Vote. 33% of large organizations said they are offering unpaid time off for voting, compared to 30% of medium organizations, and 23% of small organizations.

Like most Americans, many hospitality workers are scheduled to work when polls are open. But, what’s different is that most hospitality jobs are non-exempt (hourly) and either customer-facing or essential to daily operations, making efficient scheduling and attendance vital to success. There is an increased importance on “showing up to work on time” because absences may lead to lost revenue. The unintended impact can be a partial, albeit real, barrier to participating in the elective process.

The Right To Time Off To Vote

Having the right to vote is one thing; having the ability to exercise the right is another.

Election Day is not (yet) a national holiday, and voters often face long lines at the polls.

No federal law mandates that businesses give employees time off to vote. The right to time off to vote comes from state law.

Only 30 states have laws that require time off work to vote. Common nuances between state laws guaranteeing workers time off to vote include:

  • Which workers must get time off to vote? Smaller businesses, newer employees, and independent contractors (like gig workers) may not be covered.
  • When workers may take time off to vote? Some laws provide time off “while polls are open” on Election days, whereas other laws do not specify. This issue may play out in the courts given the higher voting by mail and ballot box during the pandemic.
  • What amount of time off do workers get to vote? State laws differ, ranging from two hours, three hours, a “reasonable time,” “the morning of Election Day,” to depending on whether the worker can get to the polls when not working.
  • Whether workers must be paid for the time off to vote? 23 of the 30 state laws mandate the time off to vote also have some element of pay for the time (the other seven state laws require at least unpaid time off).
  • Whether workers must provide proof of voting? Most state laws do not require workers to present proof of voting, but at least seven do in certain circumstances (such as for documentation to be paid for the time).
  • Whether workers must give advanced notice for time off to vote? Most state laws do not require notice, however, some do require “reasonable” notice or notice a day or two before the election.

Bottom line: whether it is because you have the time, your company gives you the time, or you carve out the time, exercise your right to vote.

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