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Politics in the Workplace: A Review of Our Most FAQ’s Around Election Time

Posted on April 26, 2016
Debra KabalkinWritten by Debra Kabalkin | Email author


As a consulting firm, we are asked frequently to review company policies and procedures for many of our clients. Around election time, one item that consistently comes up is time off for voting and the do’s and don’ts of how to handle politics in the workplace. Which unfortunately, both of these issues can have legal ramifications for companies if they are not handled correctly. Here are a few the most common questions and conversations I’ve been having with some of my clients.

Q: Do we have to provide time off to vote?

With regards to time off, you need to ensure you follow your company’s state law.  Most of the clients we serve are in the DC Metro area, so I wanted to point out the laws governing these states.

  • DC has no specific law requiring time off to vote;
  • Maryland law proclaims every voter may take two hours; and
  • Virginia has no specific law requiring time off to vote.

Q: Is there a cost for non-compliance for voting time off?

Just as some state laws have no mandate and others require companies to allow time off with pay, the penalties for non-compliance can vary with fines from $50 to a Class A Misdemeanor charge.

Q: How do we proactively avoid potential problems around politics?

With regards to policy and procedures, employers have a right to enforce limitations on politically motivated conversations in the workplace. A best practice is to make certain your policy is clear to help ensure discussions do not offend other employees with regard to race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family status or responsibility, disability or perceived disability, pregnancy, political affiliation, military or veteran status.  Companies may want to also review their dress code policy to ensure they address political buttons or paraphernalia.  If your company has a casual day (or a casual dress policy), you will most likely want to include a statement that addresses that political t-shirts are not allowed.

Q: What are other organizations doing during the election time to engage their employees?

Starbucks has a long history of trying to make a difference in the communities where it does business.  I wrote an article around Veterans’ Day about some of the many things Starbuck’s was doing for its veteran’s.  On March 7, 2016, Starbuck’s announced it had unveiled a new website that staffers can use to register to vote from any computer or mobile device.  The site is operated exclusively for Starbucks by TurboVote.org, a nonprofit organization that teams up with civic organizations to help people vote. According to the article mentioned above, the idea to create a voting portal stemmed from a February employee forum when talking about community involvement and a shift supervisor responded by saying the thought of making people aware of the importance of voting would be phenomenal.

Election Leave and How to Avoid Politics in the WorkplaceHave you ever considered creating a civic committee to discuss the political issues that are in the headlines and how they may affect the company? By 2020, Millennials will make up almost 50% of the workforce and with a strong sense of community, they believe that volunteering is extremely important when considering their employers. By allowing employees time off to work in the polls, you are showing your commitment to the community as an organization and also fulfilling your employees need to make a difference and give back to the community.  In addition, Millennials are particularly interested in connecting with other Millennials and participating in local elections creates an opportunity for them to build upon their social networks while representing the company.

What other unique ways are you using the election to impact the community within your organization? Send them in so we can share them with our HR Community!

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