Employees Head Back to the Polls
On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, Minnesotans will head to the polls to cast their vote. As we've reminded employers in the past, Minnesota's Election Day Law, Minn. Stat. § 204C.04, gives employees the right to time off to vote.
"Right to Be Absent from Work . . . Without Penalty or Deduction"
Pursuant to Section 204C.04, every employee who is eligible to vote has the "right to be absent from work" to vote on the day of the election, "without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence . . . ." Under the 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 . . . .”
Employers or "other persons" may not either directly or indirectly refuse to grant the time off or otherwise interfere with an employee’s right to take the time to vote on Election Day. Persons who violate the statute are guilty of a misdemeanor.
While the Minnesota Election Day Law provides little specifics on how exactly the leave should work, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie provided some guidance in a recent letter to "All Minnesota Employers."
- Can I request that employees provide advanced notice and coordinate their time off with other employees who need time off to vote?
Yes. While the statute does not directly address this issue, the Secretary of State believes that "employers may request that employees provide notification as to when they will be gone and request that employees coordinate their absences so as to minimize adverse impact on the workplace."
Importantly, the Secretary of State uses the term "request" (not "require"), so it is likely not permissible for an employer to mandate that employees give it advanced notice or that employees coordinate their absences.
- Can I limit the amount of time the employee is absent from work?
Likely yes, but this issue is not directly addressed by the statute or the letter from the Secretary of State. It would also be difficult to enforce.
Specifically, 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. Thus, it is safe to say that it does not provide for time off to stop at McDonald's 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?
No. The statute gives employees the right to be absent from work "without penalty or deduction from salary or wages." According to the Secretary of State, this means that "employees cannot be required to use personal leave or vacation time for the time off necessary to vote."
Minnesota employers are required by law to provide employees with time off to vote on election day. 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. The time off must be paid, but employers can take some steps to minimize the disruption these absences may cause.