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Politics at Work: FAQ’s Around Election Time

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

Around election time, we hear a couple of questions that consistently come up by our clients. Time off for voting, the do’s and don’ts of how to handle politics in the workplace, and most importantly, how to encourage voter participation. Find out how I respond to these questions below!

FAQ’s Around Election Day & Politics at Work

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

With regards to time off, follow your company’s state law.  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. Most of our clients are in the DC Metro area, so I’m going 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: How do we proactively avoid potential problems around politics?

First and foremost, our advice is to always encourage a respectful workplace. It’s likely best to remain impartial and keep a neutral stance. Through policies and communications, remind your team to be respectful. It’s important for your team to be mindful in their discussions not to 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, t-shirts or other paraphernalia.

If you have noticed that this is an issue in your office, try facilitating a change in the tone of the conversation. Perhaps you could consider creating a civic committee to discuss the political issues and how they may affect your organization and community?

Q: What are organizations doing to encourage employees to vote?

Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor, Eric Orts writes, “business has a political responsibility to encourage employees to vote.” And we don’t disagree. Orts also highlights in his article, that “44% of companies will provide some sort of paid time off option for employees to vote this year, an increase of 37% over last year” as reported by the Society for Human Resource Management. The most common practice we see is with proactive communications about voting details, flexible work schedules, and/or remote work days that allow for extra time to get to the polls. Another idea I’ve seen is allowing employees time off to volunteer in the polls.

CNN Money reported Starbuck’s released a website specifically for staffers 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. The article states CEO Howard Schultz asked in an employee discussion forum “what Starbucks could be doing to elevate citizenship in our country.” Fred Verillo, a shift supervisor, said he thought “making people aware of the importance of voting would be phenomenal.”

A number of the nation’s largest brands have formed a diverse coalition, Make Time to Vote, to campaign for voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a no meetings workday, and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. According to their website, “the U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, as low as 36 percent in the last midterm elections. One of the most common reasons people give for not voting is that they’re too busy with the demands of work and life. ”

How are you showing your commitment as an employer to make a difference this election? Send your practices in so we can share them with our HR Community!

To learn more about how Helios can help you, fill out the form below and one of our specialists will be in touch.

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