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What You Need to Know about Elections and Your Business
With early voting already underway in some states and November 3 just around the corner, you may be wondering about your obligations as an employer to provide your employees the opportunity to vote. These questions are particularly important in light of the current pandemic and the high political tensions at play during this election. Here are three steps you can take to prepare your business and workforce.
1. Understand your state’s laws.
Many states have jurisdiction-specific laws regarding employer obligations to employees. These laws typically address-
● providing time off to vote,
● requiring notice to take time off,
● illegally influencing votes, and
● illegally firing employees for participation in the civic process.
These laws may provide for time off for regular election days and individuals submitting absentee ballots. The scope of coverage depends on the jurisdiction in question. In some cases, employers are obligated to provide paid time off for employees who would like to vote. Other states mandate time off, but the time is unpaid. Keep in mind that many of these laws have notice requirements. Some states require employees to provide notice of their intent to vote within a particular time frame. Employees may also be required to provide their employers with proof of the fact that they voted.
Texas requires that an employer provide the employee with paid time off to vote unless the employee has at least two consecutive hours outside their scheduled work hours in which to vote while the polls are open on election day. The actual statute, Texas Election Code Section 276.004, states:
“UNLAWFULLY PROHIBITING EMPLOYEE FROM VOTING. (a) A person commits an offense if, with respect to another person over whom the person has authority in the scope of employment, the person knowingly:
(1) refuses to permit the other person to be absent from work on election day for the purpose of attending the polls to vote; or
(2) subjects or threatens to subject the other person to a penalty for attending the polls on election day to vote.
(b) It is an exception to the application of this section that the person’s conduct occurs in connection with an election in which the polls are open on election day for voting for two consecutive hours outside of the voter’s working hours.
(c) In this section, “penalty” means a loss or reduction of wages or another benefit of employment.
(d) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.”
2. Develop and communicate an internal policy.
If you do not have an internal system that governs how your business will handle election day and voting time, make it a priority to create one. In developing your approach, keep your state’s laws in mind. Additionally, implement safeguards by outlining the exact steps employees should follow if they want to take time off. It is also prudent to consider providing guidelines for staffing and shifts during election day.
3. Provide neutral and fair treatment regarding voting.
To the extent that you choose to provide time off, accommodations, and a generally supportive work environment, ensure that all of your employees receive fair and consistent treatment. Some states statutorily prohibit employers from influencing how employees vote, with criminal or civil liability imposed for any violation. Moreover, in instances where an employer treats an employee differently based on the employee’s political views, the employer may be exposing itself to litigation if its activity is found to have violated employment laws regarding equal treatment.
Texas law protects employees from such influence. Texas Election Code Section 276.001 states:
“RETALIATION AGAINST VOTER. (a) A person commits an offense if, in retaliation against a voter who has voted for or against a candidate or measure or a voter who has refused to reveal how the voter voted, the person knowingly:
(1) harms or threatens to harm the voter by an unlawful act; or
(2) with respect to a voter over whom the person has authority in the scope of employment, subjects or threatens to subject the voter to a loss or reduction of wages or another benefit of employment.
(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree.”
Let Us Help You
If you are in the process of reviewing or revising your internal policies regarding elections and other matters related to the operation of your business, we can help.
Call our office today to schedule a virtual consultation to discuss the policies and procedures you need in place as an employer to comply with state law and facilitate the efficient operation of your business. We will guide you as you navigate the laws of your jurisdiction.