a person in a voting booth

Election Day 2008: A Lost Workday?

Sky-high interest in tomorrow's presidential election means it "may be a difficult day for many employers," according to the labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP. "All indications are that voters will turn out in record numbers," it noted in a release last week. "Additionally, given the high level of interest in this year's elections, employees may want to take the day off to help get out the vote for their favorite candidate or issue. For example, the Obama campaign has produced an Internet video urging supporters to ask their employer if they can take the day off to help get voters to the polls. How should managers deal with employees who ask for time off on Election Day?"

Attorneys with the law firm advise employers to balance the desire of employees to vote with the need to stay open for business on Election Day. James J. McDonald, managing partner of the Irvine, Calif. office of Fisher & Phillips, said employees in some states have the legal right to take time off work to vote, particularly when they may not otherwise be able to get to the polls because of their work schedule. In most instances, employees do not have the right to take time off from work to engage in political campaigning or "get out the vote" efforts, according to the firm.

"If employees want to use accrued vacation or personal time off for this purpose, they can be permitted to do so, consistent with the employer's need to maintain operations," said McDonald. "But if too many employees want to take time off work, the employer has the right to draw the line. Also, employees who want to take the day off should be required to make arrangements in advance. For most employers, common sense will end up determining how to manage these requests."

An Oct. 29 item on the AFL-CIO Now blog credited to BNA's Daily Labor Report listed seven states where workers must be given either paid or unpaid time to vote, with some notice required as a rule and employers in most cases given the option of designating hours for voting. Colorado, Washington state, Wisconsin, and Georgia allow two paid hours, Iowa three paid hours, and Kentucky four unpaid hours. Ohio employees may take unpaid time off to vote.

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