Thursday, October 27, 2016

Navigating Election Day 2016

November 8, 2016 is almost here—finally. There has been stress and controversy in the workplace this election season as a result of the unusually contentious and heated presidential election.   Indeed, a recent American Psychological Association survey revealed that more than half of Americans see the 2016 presidential election as a significant source of stress.
A few months back, we posted some practical advice for employers about managing politics and controversial social issues in the workplace. As November 8 approaches, we’re fielding some recurring questions from employers. Today’s post will focus on answering these questions to assist employers as they navigate Election Day 2016.
Are we required to give employees time off to vote?
There is no federal law that requires employers to give employees time off to vote.   However, many states have such requirements, and some mandate that employees be paid for time spent going to the polls during working hours.  For example, in Minnesota, every employee who is eligible to vote in an election has the right to be absent from work for the time necessary to vote, and an employer may not penalize the employee or deduct wages because of the absence. Voting leave laws can vary significantly by state.  If you are an employer operating in multiple states, it’s important to understand and abide by the requirements of each state.
Should we throw an office election party?
Some employers want to make Election Day special for their employees. We’ve heard about plans to provide pizza, plans for an employer-paid trip to the local bar, and plans to keep the office TVs on all day so that employees can gather to follow the election news or returns. We’ve even heard of an employer staging “good natured” mock debates between employees who pose as candidates. These might be acceptable practices in some circumstances and office environments. In this controversial election cycle, however, employers should think twice before encouraging social events that focus on politics. Even if the employer is willing to accept the distraction caused by such gatherings, there is a possibility of angry disagreements, hurt feelings, and the expression of discriminatory sentiment, all of which can have long-term effects and all of which could lead to employer liability. If you do choose to celebrate or recognize Election Day in your workplace, insist that employees to engage respectfully and civilly with one another, and that they exhibit respect for differing opinions.
Can we require our employees to vote for a particular candidate?
We’ve seen some commentators say that in a private business, it can be legal for a boss to attempt to influence employees’ votes or political activity.  We advise caution.  Voter anti-coercion laws have been on the books for years. Federal law prohibits voter intimidation and coercion in certain elections, including presidential and congressional elections.  Some states have enacted their own anti-coercion statutes. Some state laws specifically address coercion in employment relationships, while others contain more general prohibitions against coercion. Employers should be mindful of these statutes and avoid threats or intimidation intended to force an employee to vote a particular way or for a particular candidate. In our view, the best practice is for employers is to stay far away from the voting booths of their employees.