Question:  With the election coming up, I have questions about politics in the workplace. One of my co-workers has been actively campaigning for his chosen candidates during the workday. This makes me uncomfortable, even though I support some of his candidates. Also, this colleague says that he will be carrying a political sign for a couple of hours on voting day, since our employer “has to” give him time off to vote. What does the law say about providing employees with time off to vote?


Answer:  Elections, especially contentious ones, can be distracting in the workplace.   The California Labor Code states that employers cannot make, adopt, or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy forbidding or preventing employees from engaging or participating in politics or from becoming candidates for public office. An employer cannot have policies that control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees. Employers are also prohibited from threatening to fire an employee if he or she does not adopt or follow any particular course or line of political action or political activity.
However, it is neither unreasonable nor illegal for an employer to require employees to perform their job duties during paid working hours. Employers are entitled to adopt policies to ensure that their employees are working—and not politicking—during paid working hours. Employees may become engaged in heated discussions about politics. As in all communications at work, discussions should be respectful, and an employer should step in if matters become heated or employees are not being professional and respectful.  In addition, private employers have broad rights to ensure that employers’ own resources and property, including e-mail systems and bulletin boards, are not used for employees’ personal political agendas.
When Election Day arrives, in addition to discussions about politics, employees may ask for time off to vote. Although midterm elections usually have a lower turnout than presidential elections, given the current economic climate and increased focus on what is happening in Washington, D.C., employers should not be surprised by an increase in employees requesting time off to vote.
California law provides that if an employee does not have sufficient time outside of scheduled working hours to vote in a statewide election, the employer must allow the employee to take off up to two hours at the beginning or end of the employee’s shift, with pay, in order to vote. Given that the polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., most employees can vote before or after work. Since the purpose of the law is to encourage voting, employers are not required to give employees paid time off to campaign or to carry political signs on Election Day. An employer can require an employee to provide at least two working days’ notice of the desire to take time off to vote. Employers also have an obligation to conspicuously post a notice, not less than 10 days before every statewide election, informing employees of their right to time off to vote. The appropriate notice form can be found on the California Secretary of State website at
If your employer seems unaware of the amount of political discussion and disruption taking place in the workplace, you may raise the issue with your supervisor and ask that some workplace conduct guidelines be put in place.