Election Day in Minnesota: New Employer Obligations
On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, Minnesotans will head to the polls to cast their vote in the state's primary. Minnesota's Election Day Law, Minn. Stat. § 204C.04, which covers all "regularly scheduled" state primary or general election, including Tuesday's primary, was recently amended to give employees the "right to be absent from work for the time necessary to appear at the employee's polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work."
It is important for employers to take a moment to review the new law's requirements and understand your obligations.
Expansion of the "Right to Be Absent from Work"
In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature expanded employees' opportunity to be absent from work without penalty to vote. Legislators removed the provision that had previously allowed such absences only in the morning of Election Day.
Every employee who is eligible to vote has the right to be absent without penalty or loss of salary or wages. Under the new law, employees have the right to be absent from work “for the time necessary to appear at the employee’s polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work on the day of that election.”
Employers or "other persons" may not either directly or indirectly refuse or otherwise interfere with an employee’s right to take the time to vote on Election Day. Violations of the statute are guilty of a misdemeanor.
Answers to Unanswered Questions
Other than prohibiting "penalties" or "wage and salary deductions," the Minnesota Election Day Law provides little guidance to employers. Employers often ask very specific questions that are simply not addressed by the statute.
- Can I require an employee to provide advanced notice?
Probably. While the statute does not directly address this issue, an employee would be hard pressed to argue that providing notice to his employer (at least at the time his or her shift starts) somehow interferes with the employee's right to be absent from work to vote and lack of notice is not a valid basis for taking disciplinary action.
- Can I limit the amount of time the employee is absent from work?
Yes, although this will be difficult to enforce. The statute provides that the employee must be given time off for the time necessary to (1) appear at the employee's polling place, (2) cast a ballot, and (3) return to work. It does not provide for time off to stop at McDonalds on the way. It may be difficult, however, to determine whether an employee who seems to be taking a long time to return to work is doing anything other than simply waiting in a long line at the polling place.
It is important to note that the statute makes it clear that the employee should be given sufficient time to vote at the "employee's polling place." Therefore, employees who travel great distances to get to work must be given enough time to travel to their polling place and back.
- Can I require the employee to use accrued vacation or paid time off (PTO) to make up the difference?
Probably not. While the statute does not address this question, deducting an employee's accrued leave or PTO may be viewed as a prohibited deduction or penalty.
- Can I coordinate an employee's time off with other employees who request time off to vote?
Probably. Again, the statute does not address whether an employer may coordinate the employees’ time away to vote in order to minimize disruption or ensure proper staffing, it is likely that an employer can do so as long as the employer gives the employee sufficient time off to (1) appear at the employee's polling place, (2) cast a ballot, and (3) return to work.
Minnesota employers must provide employees time off with pay on election day (including state primaries). The amount of time must be sufficient to (1) appear at the employee's polling place, (2) cast a ballot, and (3) return to work.