Question:

I recently moved to California to accept a job as a manager in a local company. One of the employees in my work unit recently asked me about taking time off to vote in the Presidential Primary Election on February 5, 2008. Do I have to allow the employee time off to vote?

Answer:

Yes, the California Elections Code contains specific requirements regarding the privileges of voters, and employers’ obligations. First, the law requires that at least ten days before every statewide election, every employer must post a notice advising employees of their right to take time off to vote. The notice must be posted in a conspicuous place at work, or in a place where employees can see it when they come to their workplace. A notice is available in English and Spanish from the California Secretary of State website at www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_tov.htm.

California law states that if a voter does not have sufficient time outside of work hours to vote in a statewide election, the employee can take up to two hours paid time off work to enable the employee to vote. Employees can be given as much time as they need in order to vote, but only a maximum of two hours is paid. The employer can require that the employee take the time off at the beginning or end of the regular working shift, whichever allows the most free time for voting and the least time off from the regular work shift. The employer can also require that the employee submit the request for time off to vote at least two working days before Election Day.

These laws apply to all public and private employers. California law prohibits an employer from taking an adverse employment action against an employee for exercising a legal right. Therefore, no adverse employment action can be taken against employees who request time off or take time off to vote.

California’s primary will occur on Tuesday February 5, 2008. Employers are required to post the voting rights notice by January 26, 2008. Your employees are required to inform you if they need time off to vote by February 1, 2008. Because the polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., your employees may not need time off to vote. However, if they request time off to vote, they must be given up to two hours off without deduction of pay. You are not required to give all employees time off to vote, only those who request it because they have insufficient time outside of working hours to vote.

Many employers describe the employee’s right to take time off work to vote in the employee handbook. A simple policy may read, “We encourage you to exercise your voting privileges in local, state, and national elections. However, since the polls are open for long periods, you are encouraged to vote before or after regular working hours. If necessary, you may take up to two (2) hours paid leave from work at the beginning or end of your shift to vote in a governmental election or referendum. You are required to notify your supervisor at two days week in advance of your need to take time off to vote.”

Most employees vote on their own time, before or after work. However, if one of your employees requests time off to vote because, for example, due to their commute they cannot make it to their polling place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., the employee is entitled to up to two hours paid time off to vote.

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