I'm scheduled to work on Election Day. Do I have a right to take time off from work to vote?
Not necessarily. Getting time off to vote is an area of the law dealt with on a state-by-state basis. Depending on where you live, you may, or may not have the right to take time off to vote. For voting, the state laws rule applies during local, as well as national presidential elections.
In some states, the law designates a specific amount of time that workers must be allowed off to vote. This time off may be paid or unpaid. Some states require your employer to give you time off only if you will not have enough time to vote before or after work, while the polls are open. Most but not all states prevent your employer from firing or disciplining you because you take time off to vote. In some states, if you do not actually vote even though you took time off for that purpose, your employer can dock your pay for the hours off, so save your receipt or other proof of voting in case you're later questioned.
How do I take advantage of the law in my state to vote during work hours on Election Day?
While the law on this varies from state to state, many states require that you give your employer advance notice of your intention to vote, or you cannot rely on the law's protections. It's a good idea anyway, so that you and your employer can make arrangements for coverage while you're away from work. Even if your state does not have a law, you may find your employer will support your efforts to vote. If there are no protections in your state, and your employer will not accommodate your need to vote, before giving up and not voting, be sure to find out your state's laws on absentee or early voting. That may be an option if there is absolutely no way you can be away from work and still vote.
I want to volunteer or work at the polls on Election Day. Can my employer stop me from doing that?
Even if your state has a law allowing you to vote, the time that you are permitted for voting is generally limited to a few hours--the time it takes most people to vote--rather than the entire day. Your employer may allow you to use a vacation day or personal leave for that purpose, but if you're planning to do this, it's recommended that you give advance notice. Your employer might not be so supportive of its employees' civic participation in the future if everyone just calls in sick or takes leave that day. Use of sick leave and vacation leave are generally within your employer's discretion to approve or deny. Employees generally do not have a legal right to take leave whenever they want without advance notice or permission, even if leave has been accrued, so make sure your employer is on board before you miss work.
Is my employer required to post a notice about employees' right to vote?
Few states (California is one exception) require employers to post anything about how to take advantage of the legal right to time off to vote.
What happens if I am denied the right to vote because my employer broke the law?
Some states with laws allowing time off to vote impose penalties if an employer keeps workers from exercising their right to vote. While the penalties in some of the states that have them can be quite severe, other states do not have penalties at all.
In New York and Colorado, companies essentially face a corporate death sentence if they violate the time-off-to-vote law. They could lose their corporate charter if they bar a worker from voting. In Arizona, Missouri and Kansas, supervisors face fines of up to $2,500 if they block someone from voting. In Arizona, the company itself can be fined as much as $20,000.
Realistically, while your employer may not ultimately face much punishment, if you live in a state with legal protections (or even if you don't), most employers will want to promote civic involvement and maintain employee morale by allowing their workers to vote. If word gets out that a particular company prevents its employees from voting, the company faces a potential public relations problem, which may be more of a concern than any fine a government agency might impose.
What is the law in my state?
Select your state from the map below or from this list.
Can you believe it? Even with all the politicians who live here, the District does not have a law protecting your right to vote. [Some might argue that in the District, the federal vote is a meaningless one anyway, but that's another story.] You still might be covered by an administrative regulation or local ordinance, however. Contact your local board of elections or labor department for more information. Or see if your employer will give you time off anyway.