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There are only 20 days left until Election Day and I think I can speak for most people when I say I cannot wait for political commercials and political Facebook banter to cease.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to use this blog to get you to vote one way or another and we’re not going to use it exploit the most popular phrase from last night’s debate. Besides, we don’t think it would be politically correct or HR appropriate to even touch on the subject of “binders full of women.” (Oops. Does that count?)

In all seriousness, as we enter the final stretch, we thought it would be important to remind employers that some states have requirements for providing employees with time off to vote on Election Day.

Now would be a great time to review your policies to make sure you are compliant with your state laws. Just to make it more complicated, some states don’t have rules while others require all employers to provide employees with time off to vote on Election Day. And of course, violation of many of these statutes is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine. And nobody likes fines so make sure to pay attention!

The laws vary from state to state; some states offer paid time off and some require postings of notices advising employees of their rights prior to the election. It is best to look up your specific state to see what guidelines you need to follow.

For you convenience, we’ve included the requirements for states in our area. Unless otherwise indicated, these laws apply only to those employees who are eligible or entitled to vote.

States With Statutes

Kentucky: Employers are required to allow employees at least four hours of time off in order to vote or cast an absentee ballot, but employees must request leave before the day of the election. The employer may select the time during which employees may be absent from work. Employers are not required to grant paid time off. Ky. Const. § 148; Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 118.035.

Ohio: Employers cannot fire or threaten to fire an employee for taking a reasonable amount of time to vote. Employers may not otherwise induce or compel an employee to vote or refrain from voting. Ohio Rev. Code § 3599.06

Tennessee: Employees who begin their workday less than three hours after polls open and finish less than three hours before polls close are entitled to up to three hours paid leave to vote. Employees must request leave by noon the day before the election. The employer can set the time for leave to vote. Tenn. Code § 2-1-106.

West Virginia: Employees who lack three hours of their own time during polling hours are entitled to up to three paid hours of leave to vote. The employee must request leave in writing at least three days before the election. In certain essential operations (health, transportation, communication, production, manufacturing and processing facilities), employers receiving written requests may schedule the hours when employees will be allowed to leave, but must allow sufficient and convenient time to vote. W.Va. Code § 3-1-42.

States Without Statutes

If your state does not have a specific statute (like our neighbor to north, Indiana), it is best to outline your policy in your employee handbook. We recommend allowing your employees two hours of unpaid time off with advance notice.

We suggest that you allow every employee this time off even though you may not be able to accommodate each and every employee’s exact request (for example if they ask for 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. off and you need them to be at the office at that time). Simply offer them an alternate time.

If you deny an employee’s request to take time off to vote, you will probably become a poster child for employers who make it difficult for their employees to vote. And you don’t want that, do you? Next thing you know the media will be knocking down your office door wanting to portray you as the horrible boss chaining employees to their desks and forcing them to miss out on their civic duty. Let’s avoid that, shall we?

If your company is dependent on employees to keep your business running at all times, you don’t want to risk everyone deciding to go vote at the same time. One option might be to post a sign-up sheet with different blocks of time where employees can pick on a first come first serve basis which time they take to vote. That way, everyone is able to take the time off, but you will always have a certain number of employees in the office.

In the end, it all comes down to balancing your company’s productivity and your employees’ civic duty. Election Day will run a lot smoother if you get your policies straightened out beforehand. And don’t forget to communicate these policies and procedures about taking time off to vote on election day to your employees! Communication is key!

Bonus Blog:

Has the topic of the impending election sparked a fiery debate in the office? Read this blog to help you figure out how to address this issue and put out the fire, “Election 2012: Politics in the Office.

Free Offer:

Uncertain if your employee handbook is bullet-proof? Download our free Employee Handbook Analysis Toolkit and find out. Click here to download. 

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.