Employees sometimes need time off from work for personal matters. In addition, employees sometimes need time off from work in order to vote or to serve on a jury. Many states require that employers give employees the time necessary to vote, to serve on a jury, or both. Other states do not.
Time Off to Vote
In states where time off is required to allow an employee to vote, the laws have been enacted to balance the employer's need for a reliable and productive workforce, with the employee's right to vote. The specific state laws vary. Some states require two hours off, others require three hours off. In addition, if the polls open the requisite time before the employee's work day starts or are open the requisite time after the employee finishes work, then no time off is required. Most of the states that have such laws apply them to all voters, except Massachusetts, which only applies their law to mechanical, manufacturing or mercantile employees. In addition, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have time-off-to-vote laws. Only Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming require the employee to actually vote during their time off to vote.
As for an employer's penalty for violating the appropriate statute, the softest penalty is a $25 fine (Arkansas), and the hardest penalty is surrendering the employer's corporate charter (New York and Colorado) or jail time (12 other states).
States That Don't Require Time Off to Vote:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Keep in mind that even if your state does not specifically have a time-off-to-vote law, denying an employee time off to vote may be coercion, which could be a violation of other state laws.
Time Off for Jury Duty
Most states allow employees to take time off for jury duty. Sitting on a jury is a civic responsibility, and employees are generally required by law to go to court and at least be excused if they are not able to serve on a jury. The federal law on this subject is the Fair Labor Standards Act (Act) (29 U.S.C.S. § 201 et seq.) The Act does not require covered employers to pay employees for time off from work to serve on a jury. In addition, the Federal Jury System Improvement Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1875, prohibits employers from threatening, coercing, or discharging an employee because of jury duty and requires that the employer allow the employee to return to work after serving on a jury.
Many employers allow employees to take time off to serve on a jury. It's difficult both for employers and employees because the length of time away from work is difficult to estimate. Therefore, it is difficult for an employer to measure its need for a replacement employee, and a typical employee fears that the time off, if not paid, will be financially crippling. While it's true that courts provide some compensation, the court-mandated compensation for jurors usually falls far short of the employee's ordinary pay. Obviously, your employer is likely to require written verification of the call to jury duty as well as your selection and service on a jury. If your employer is reluctant to allow you the time off that you require, you may want to contact the court clerk where you were summoned for jury duty for possible solutions in your area.
The same laws and procedures for jury duty generally control if an employee is called to be a witness in a court proceeding.
The best thing for you to do is to help your employer during this difficult time by assisting in the following ways:
- Tell your supervisor as soon as you are summoned, and have your documentation
- Work with your human resources manager
- Complete your most important work before you leave
- Check into whether you will be paid, or whether you can use sick pay, personal days, or vacation time if you are not paid
- Assist in finding a temporary replacement or another co-worker while you will be gone—if you are active in helping your employer manage your absence, he or she may be more cooperative and understanding
How a Lawyer Can Help
Employment law is a complicated area of the law and labor and employment lawyers have specialized knowledge that may help you if you need to file a claim or an action against an employer. Often, employers have manuals spelling out conditions for time off. Visiting with a lawyer will help you to understand your employer's policies. In addition, if you need to file a lawsuit or action, not only are there court actions, but also federal, state and local agencies that may require a claim with them prior to any court action. Talking with a labor and employment lawyer should give you the answers you need.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Does my state have a time-off law?
- Is my employer required to pay me during my time off to vote?
- What are the penalties against the employer for violating the law?
- Is my state a "non-coercion" state?
- What are the penalties against my employer if a time-off law is broken?