While early voting and mail-in ballots are common in many locations, tomorrow, November 6, is the real deal: voting day. As an employer, what are your responsibilities to your employees and their right to vote?

Don't tell your employees how to vote.

It's generally legal to attempt to influence your employees' votes. Some states have specific rules about employers influencing voters, but most don't. That doesn't mean it's a good idea. Employment attorney Jon Hyman says:

"Legal or illegal, however, you need to ask yourself whether holding captive audience meetings to discuss political issues, threatening employees' jobs, or mandating their attendance at political events is a valid business practice. How you answer the question of whether you think it's OK to try to shape or influence your employees' votes helps to define the kind of employer you are. Voting is an intensely personal choice. I don't think it's my business how my family members cast their votes. I certainly don't think it's an employer's business how its employees cast their votes. Voting booths have privacy curtains for a reason. Exercise some discretion by not invading that privacy of your workers."

Now, of course, your employees don't have to tell you who they voted for, but they should never feel pressure. You may think it's the most important thing in the world that Candidate A wins, but your employees may not feel the same way. And that's OK. Remember how we like diversity? Diversity of opinion is important too.

Give employees time off to vote.

Most likely, this is up to state law, so double-check with your state. Some states require time to vote be paid, as well. (For exempt employees, as long as they work at all during the day, they must be paid for the whole day, regardless of how long they spend in the voting queue.) 

Remember that employees with long commutes have to vote where they live, not where your office is, so they may need to come in late or leave early to fulfill their civic duty. Certainly, ask employees to notify you if they will be late due to voting, but don't punish people for getting to the polls early, standing in line, and then coming in late.

 Don't punish someone for not voting.

You can wear your "I voted" sticker proudly. That's not a problem. (Well, unless it's a dress-code violation, but goodness your dress code is too strict unless you work where a sticker is a health hazard.) But don't criticize someone who doesn't sport one. 

Only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote. While HR knows who is and who is not a citizen, you may not. And no, you can't judge by accents. So, if you start railing against people who aren't wearing their sticker, you may be harassing people who can't legally vote. Or you may be directing your passion toward someone whose religion prohibits voting. Or maybe someone just hasn't studied the issues and doesn't want to vote. Really, that's fine. They don't have to vote if they don't want to, and it's none of your business.

Just make sure the people who want to vote can. It's the right thing to do, and it may be the law in your state. 

Published on: Nov 5, 2018