Voting in person on Election Day can be an exhilarating experience, but some voters who work day jobs have trouble getting time off when it’s impossible to get to the polls before or after work. When you’re dealing with a hostile boss, it’s important to know your rights.
Depending on where you live, you may be entitled to time off to vote, so that you — like former Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley, pictured above — can play a role in the political process.
If you think you might need time off to vote, start early — not the day before Election Day. Provide as much advance notice as possible as a courtesy for scheduling. If your workplace doesn’t have a formal “time off to vote” policy, bringing the topic up can trigger an important workplace policy discussion. Your employer may not have thought about this issue before — especially if they’re a small or new company — and asking them to formalize it will benefit everyone.
Try: “Hey boss, the election is in a couple of weeks and I’m a little worried I won’t have time to cast my ballot before or after work. Does Company have a time off to vote policy? If not it would be great to set one up.”
Before you approach your boss to ask for time off to vote, double check the hours for polling places, as well as the location of your polling place. Your boss may try to argue that you should vote before or after work, so take a minute to think about the logistics. Would it be possible? If not, why not?
For example, maybe you need to drop off your kids at school, and from there you have to go straight to work. And by the time you get off work, it’s too late to get to the polls in time to cast your ballot. It can help to have a solid explanation for why you need time off.
Also think about when you need time off, to see if you can work with your boss. Maybe you could take an extra half hour on your lunch break, come in late or leave a little early. Prepare to be flexible. Even if the law requires time off, starting with an ask rather than a demand may make the conversation go easier. And many laws say employers are allowed to schedule time off, so acknowledging that can help you make your case.
Your boss may push you to just get an absentee ballot. In “no excuse” states, anyone can ask for an absentee ballot for any reason, but that may not be the case where you live — and everyone deserves the right to vote in person. You can explain that an absentee ballot isn’t an option for you. Early voting might be — again, depending on where you live — so check on early voting policies; maybe it would be possible to vote on a non-work day, or to get time off for early voting on a day when your presence is less essential.
But if your boss still refuses, you need information about your rights when it comes to time off to vote.
Some states require employers to provide time off to vote when it is not possible to vote outside working hours, and they may not dock vacation, sick or personal leave. Some explicitly require paid time off, like Minnesota and New York.
In both cases, there’s usually a limit; you can’t go to your boss and ask for four hours, for example. Some states have a hybrid, like in California, where employers must provide two paid hours to vote, but if employees need more time, they can take it unpaid.
The AFL-CIO maintains a list of time off to vote laws by state, which you can check to get the most current information. Your employer may be required to post placards with this information and other basic rights in a prominent place — and your state’s Department of Labor can provide this information on request.
If your boss is inflexible after a polite ask and a conversation about voting rights laws, consider escalating to your boss’ boss, Human Resources or your union representative. Another option may be to consult a local workers’ rights advocacy group, which may have suggestions for you — or could partner you with someone who can help you advocate in the workplace.
The nuclear option: You can also report your employer for a labor violation in a state where they are required to offer time off to vote, but be aware you may face retaliation — and even if your state has laws to protect whistleblowers, navigating the process of fighting back after retaliation can be time-consuming and stressful.