We are getting close. Mercifully, we will get a respite from the onslaught of political ads that have haunted us morning, noon and night since summer drew to a close.
Yes, Election Day 2014, Tuesday, November 4, is nearly upon us. Businesses should take a moment to review their policies and procedures and make sure that they understand laws concerning employee voting rights. Similarly, employees should understand the extent of their rights and how to properly exercise them.
The amount of time that employees are entitled to take in connection with voting varies, not surprisingly, from state to state. Some impose no requirements whatsoever, others make it a crime to deny time off, and some impose civil forfeitures on those that do not comply.
Questions usually arise as to what notice, if any, employees must give their employer and what restrictions an employer might be allowed to place on the time and manner in which employees might exercise their right to vote.
Wisconsin law is fairly straightforward. Wisconsin Statute § 6.76 says that an employee is entitled to three (3) successive hours to vote. Caution employees! You cannot simply disappear from work for three hours on Election Day at your leisure. The law also says that an employee must notify his or her employer of the intended absence before the big day. The employer then has the legal right to designate the time of day for that intended absence.
Also, leaving work to vote does not equate to paid time off. The law allows employers to make a deduction for time lost, but they cannot otherwise penalize the employee in any way.
One other thing, the statute applies to “any person entitled to vote” at an election and also refers to “electors.” So those not legally permitted to vote for whatever reason likely cannot take advantage of the three-hour break.
Employers that do not comply may be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and face imprisonment of up to 6 months.
There are a couple of practical points worth considering. First, while Wisconsin law does not require that employers provide notice of these rights to their employees doing so could be helpful and ensure smooth operating on the big day. Second, employers should check their collective bargaining agreements and other policies that may be in effect. The law described above refers to the minimum legal rights afforded employees – agreements or policies could afford greater rights that must be respected.
Good luck, and go vote.