Why do so many eligible voters stay home from the polls?  In the 2012 presidential race, depending upon the survey, it is estimated that only 54 – 58% of eligible voters cast ballots. There are a myriad of reasons people do not vote, but many voters complain that lines are too long, or they are too busy to vote.

Of course, in many instances, work is one big demand on voter time.  Workers may not be aware that a majority of states require that an employer give employees time off to vote. The specifics, including requiring advance requests for time off, the amount of time that must be allowed, and whether the time off is paid, vary from state to state.

For example, in West Virginia, an employee can request up to three hours off to vote, without taking leave or a reduction in pay, if the employee does not have at least three hours before or after work in which to vote. A request for time off must be in writing and submitted to an employer at least three days prior to election day. For certain “essential operations,” employers can schedule hours when requesting employees will be permitted to leave to vote.

Ohio provides that employers cannot fire or threaten to fire an employee for taking a reasonable amount of time off work to vote.

In Kentucky, employees may take four hours off work to vote, but the employer may specify the hours.  If an employee takes time off to vote and fails to vote, he or she may be subject to disciplinary action.

Texas employers must give employees time off to vote without penalty (including no loss of pay) if polls are not open for 2 consecutive hours outside the employee’s work day.

Pennsylvania does not have a specific law addressing time off for voting.

In Colorado, with notice to an employer prior to election day, employees may take up to two hours off of work to vote. The employer may specify the hours the employee will take off, but, if requested by the employee, the time off must be at the beginning or end of the work period. However, no leave is available if polls are open three or more hours during the time that the employee is not required to be on the job.

This is just an overview, so employers facing requests for time off to vote from employees should consult legal counsel to ensure they are complying with any applicable requirements in their state(s) of operation.

Jami Suver focuses her practice in the area of labor and employment law.
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