In case you’ve been avoiding television, or your phone, or going outside, or your computer (how are you reading this blog?) you’re aware that a national election is coming up. We’re less than a month away from the election, when we can finally breathe that sweet sigh of relief when all of the election ads are finally run and we can get back to…the pandemic.
Anyways, there are some important things for employers to know about what to do on election day, and we’re here to provide a reminder for you on your obligations. There are no federal laws that require employers to give employees time off to vote. However, there are many states that have laws that require such leave. In Minnesota, “[e]very employee who is eligible to vote in an election has the right to be absent from work for the time necessary to appear at the employee’s polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work on the day of that election, without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence.” Minn. Stat. 204C.04, subd. 1. Employers cannot refuse or interfere with that right, or any other election right of an employee.
With the pandemic going on this year, things are going to be a little different. With the passion that is accompanying this election, as well as the Covid-19 guidelines put in place to maintain safe voting conditions, employers can expect much longer wait times for employees who choose to vote at their local polling locations. On top of this, with many employees still working from home, monitoring when employees are coming and going from their polling locations is going to be incredibly difficult. However, if you’ve trusted your employees enough to allow them to work from home and get their work done, it is important that employers don’t interfere with an individual’s right to vote, as the penalty for such interference is a criminal misdemeanor.
Even though employers cannot interfere with their employees’ rights to vote, they can ask that their employees inform them of when they will be voting, and request that employees who are working on-site coordinate their absences to minimize disruptions to service. While you can inform employees of their right to vote absentee (still possible!) you cannot require them to vote in that manner.
For those employers of peace officers, it may serve as a helpful reminder that unless they are summoned by an election judge to restore peace, they are not allowed within fifty feet of a polling location while on duty. It is acceptable to request that your peace officer employees not wear their uniforms while voting if you see fit.
Clearly, we are in unprecedented times, and the upcoming election day will be no different. Employers will play an especially important role in making sure their employees have the time and ability to vote in the election, and can expect resistance from employees if there is any hint of interference on the part of the employer. If you, or your organization need assistance in election day issues with your employees, contact the Wiley Law Office, for legal advice that works.