The Employer's Legal Resource: It's Election Season: Make Sure You Give Your Employees Time Off to Vote
Tuesday, November 6, 2012, is Election Day across the United States, and in Oklahoma that means employers must allow employees time off to exercise their right to vote. Oklahoma's time off to vote law ensures that all Oklahomans have an opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote without loss of compensation or benefits or the fear of adverse employment action. The law requires all employers to give employees at least two (2) hours off work to vote. If the employee works far enough away from his voting place that more than two (2) hours will be needed, you must give them "sufficient time" in which to cast a ballot.
All that the employee must do to get time off to vote is to give the employer written or verbal notice of his need to be absent to vote at least one day before the election. Once the employer receives notice, it should select the hours the employee is allowed to take off to vote and let the employee know when he is expected to be at work.
An employee whose regular work day begins three (3) hours after polls open or ends three (3) hours before polls close does not need to be provided time off to vote. Further, in lieu of giving an employee two hours off, the law specifically permits employers to re-arrange an employee's schedule on Election Day to allow three (3) hours off work (i) after polls open or (ii) before they close. In Oklahoma, the polling places will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.
It is unlawful for employers to deny employees sufficient time off to vote if the employee has made the required request to be absent to vote. The employee cannot be disciplined in any way for the time missed to vote. That means the employee's time off to vote must be compensated at their normal rate of pay and cannot count against vacation time, PTO, or the like. Any employer who fails to comply with the law may be guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined $50.00 to $100.00 per occurrence. It is also possible an employer could face civil liability if it retaliates against an employee who takes time off to vote in compliance with the statute.
To summarize, an employer must give an employee time off to vote with no penalty, unless: (i) the employee is not registered to vote, (ii) the employee does not give you written or verbal notice of her intention to be absent to vote by at least the day before the election, or (iii) if the employee's regular work day begins three (3) or more hours after the polls open or ends three (3) or more hours prior to the polls closing.
Come Election Day, be sure you are complying with the time off to vote law and any voting policies in your employee handbook or other personnel policies.
By Kenneth T. Short, firstname.lastname@example.org