Employers Risk Fines, Even Jail Time for Interfering
As political candidates from around the United States deliver their last stump speeches, air remaining TV ads, and make final appeals before Election Day, voters are making up their minds on not only who to vote for, but when. On Tuesday, November 2, millions of voters will block out time around their work day to go to the polls and many states require employers to provide employees with adequate time away to vote – or face stiff penalties.
According to CCH, a leading provider of labor and employment law information and services – part of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business – voting is more than a personal civic duty. In more than half of states, voting takes legal precedence over work, and employers must allow employees time off to cast their ballots.
Employers in many states risk fines or even jail sentences for interfering with an employee’s right to vote. In other states, the law offers no special protection or incentive for someone who takes time away from their job to cast a ballot.
“In many cases, time off is only guaranteed if the employee does not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote,” explained CCH Employment Law Analyst David Stephanides, JD. “However, the fact that early voting or vote-by-mail is available normally does not relieve the employer of the duty to provide time off on voting day itself.”
States Strike a Balance
While federal law protects a citizen’s right to vote, state laws specify time-off-to-vote provisions as well as the rights employers may have to discipline employees or withhold pay for time not worked. Many of these rules attempt to balance between the interests of the employee and the employer.
In 24 states, employees must be paid for time spent voting: employers are prohibited from penalizing an employee or making deductions from wages for at least part of the time the employee is authorized to be absent from work to cast a vote. Five states – Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming – spell out in their statute books that workers will be paid for their time off only if they actually vote, although in Maryland it’s sufficient for employees to establish that they attempted to vote.
Eighteen states require employees to give advance notice of their intention to take time off to vote. Iowa and West Virginia add the requirement that the notification be in writing. Employers are allowed to specify the hours to be taken for voting in 22 states.
Range of Penalties
“Employers who violate time-off-to-vote laws face penalties that range from trivial to a corporate death sentence,” said Stephanides.
The highest fines for failure to allow time off to vote are authorized in Kansas and Missouri, where an individual employer may be fined $2,500, while North Dakota provides for corporations to be assessed up to $15,000. Eighteen states add possible jail time, in some cases up to a year, to monetary penalties. In New York and Colorado, businesses can forfeit their corporate charters if found in violation. Unlawful coercion of an employee’s vote can bring especially stiff penalties – up to $10,000 in fines and up to five years in jail in Nebraska.
On the other end of the scale is Arkansas, where failure to give an employee an opportunity to vote – without pay – is punishable by a fine as low as $25. In a number of states, no penalty is specified.
Laws requiring payment for time off to vote were approved in 1952 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pair of decisions involving Missouri and California laws: Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. v. Missouri and Tide Water Associated Oil Co. v. Robinson. They were upheld as a proper exercise of the police power of the state.
In addition to the U.S. states, Puerto Rico provides that any day a general election, a referendum of general interest or a plebiscite is held is a legal holiday, and employees must be allowed to vote. General elections also are considered legal holidays within the Virgin Islands and employees who give prior notice are entitled to two hours off from work to vote, without loss of pay.
Overall, 31 states and Puerto Rico have time-off-to-vote laws on the books while 19 states and the District of Columbia do not. States without time-off-to-vote laws include: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.
Click through for a table
summarizing state laws. For expanded coverage of voting/employment laws, including citations to applicable codes and statutes, visit
download the PDF.
About Wolters Kluwer Law & Business
Wolters Kluwer Law & Business is a leading provider of research products and software solutions in key specialty areas for legal and business professionals, as well as casebooks and study aids for law students. Its major product lines include Aspen Publishers, CCH, Kluwer Law International and Loislaw. Its markets include health care organizations, law firms, law schools, corporate counsel and professionals requiring legal and compliance information. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, a unit of Wolters Kluwer, is based in New York City and Riverwoods, Ill.