While there is no federal law that requires employers to allow employees to take leave to vote in federal elections, most states require employers to provide some amount of leave to vote.
For instance, Illinois has a statute entitled “Time off to Vote.” See (10 ILCS 5/17-15). The statute reads in relevant part:
“Any person entitled to vote at a general or special election or at any election at which propositions are submitted to a popular vote in this State, shall, on the day of such election, be entitled to absent himself from any services or employment in which he is then engaged or employed, for a period of 2 hours between the time of opening and closing the polls; and such voter shall not because of so absenting himself be liable to any penalty; Provided, however, that application for such leave of absence shall be made prior to the day of election. The employer may specify the hours during which said employee may absent himself as aforesaid, except that the employer must permit a 2-hour absence during working hours if the employee’s working hours begin less than 2 hours after the opening of the polls and end less than 2 hours before the closing of the polls. No person or corporation shall refuse to an employee the privilege hereby conferred, nor shall subject an employee to a penalty, including a reduction in compensation due to an absence under this Section, because of the exercise of such privilege, nor shall directly or indirectly violate the provisions of this section.”
In sum, Illinois employees are allowed two successive hours during open poll times (which are 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Illinois) to vote. Employers may determine when those two successive hours fall during the day. For example, if an employee’s shift does not start until 4:00 p.m., the employer may specify that the employee is to vote during the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. so that the employee’s time off to vote does not interfere with work commitments. Where an employee’s working hours begin less than two hours after polls open and end less than two hours before polls close, however, the employer must allow the employee to take off 2 successive hours during working time. Note that employees are only entitled to time off to vote if they have requested that time prior to Election Day and that if such leave is granted, it is paid.
Missouri also has a statute which requires employers to allow employees time off to vote. See R.S.Mo. §115.639. The statute reads:
1) Any person entitled to vote at any election held within this state shall, on the day of such election, be entitled to absent himself from any services or employment in which he is then engaged or employed, for a period of three hours between the time of opening and the time of closing the polls for the purpose of voting, and any such absence for such purpose shall not be reason for the discharge of or the threat to discharge any such person from such services or employment; and such employee, if he votes, shall not, because of so absenting himself, be liable to any penalty or discipline, nor shall any be made for such leave of absence prior to the day of election, and provided further, that this section shall not apply to a voter on the day of election if there are three successive hours while the polls are open in which he is not in the service of his employer. The employer may specify any three hours between the time of opening and the time of closing the polls during which such employee may absent himself.
2) Any employer violating this section shall be deemed guilty of a class four election offense.
Thus, in Missouri, employees are entitled to 3 successive hours during open poll times (6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Missouri) to vote. Similar to Illinois, employees who are scheduled to be off-duty for at least 3 successive hours during open poll times are not entitled to additional time off to vote. If an employee is entitled to time off, the employer may determine which 3 successive hours the employee may be absent. For example, if an employee works 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the employer may satisfy its obligation under the statute by allowing the employee to come to work an hour late, or leave work an hour early. Any time missed as a result of this leave should be paid.
Missouri and Illinois employers are cautioned against penalizing an employee who takes time off to vote in accordance with their respective state statute.
The majority of states have enacted similar statutes allowing employees some type of leave to vote. With elections around the corner, every employer should review its state’s laws for granting leave to an employee for the purpose of voting. If you are not sure about the leave laws in your state, please make sure you contact a McMahon Berger attorney or your state’s Department of Labor.
The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.