Laws differ in each state, but most states protect an employee's right to take time off to carry out civic duties like voting and serving on a jury. State laws typically prohibit employers from punishing or firing employees for exercising civic rights. Company policy may also provide an employee with the right to take time off from work to vote or serve on a jury. Employers that violate state law may be subject to criminal penalties and civil fines.
Time Off for Voting
More than half of the states have laws that regulate an employee's right to take time off from work to vote. The following states do not have applicable laws: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. However, local ordinances or an employer's policy may address these rights in an employee handbook.
State laws vary, but most regulate the amount of time off an employer must give an employee and when the employer does not have to give time off. New Mexico and several other states, for instance, allow employees to take two hours of paid time off if the employee would not have enough time to vote during nonworking hours. In New Mexico, an employee does not have to give paid time off if the employee begins working more than two hours after the polls open or stops working more than three hours before the polls close.
Some states also impose obligations on employees. The employee may have to provide proof that they voted or may have to give advance notice of their intent to take time off to vote. In Maryland, for example, employees must prove that they voted or attempted to vote by showing the employer the state board of elections form. In New York, proof is unnecessary, but an employee may request leave by giving between two and 10 working days notice before an election.
One option for employees with limited time to vote on election day is to sign up for "permanent absentee voting," in which voters are sent a mail-in ballot prior to the election. Some districts also provide early voting to accommodate voters.
Time Off for Jury Duty
Because some employers discourage employees from jury duty, most states have laws that forbid employers from engaging in threatening tactics or from firing or disciplining an employee. Most state laws penalize employers that violate jury duty laws. In many states, a violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. Some states also allow an employee to seek reinstatement, back pay, and attorney fees.
Federal law and most state laws do not require an employer to give paid time off, but a few states do have this mandate. For example, in Alabama, employers must pay full-time employees their current salary minus any payments received from the court. An employee is also entitled to pay when an employer's written policy provides this provision.
Some states also impose notice obligations on employees. While several states only require "reasonable notice," other states have requirements that are more specific. In Tennessee, an employee must provide a copy of the jury duty summons to a supervisor the day after its receipt and in Nevada the employee must give at least a day's notice before beginning jury duty.
Employers should check their state's laws with respect to time off for voting or jury duty prior to implementing an official policy. If you are in doubt or just want to make sure your plan complies with the law, consider speaking with an employment law attorney who works with employers.
For more information about employee time off, see FindLaw's Leave Laws and Wages and Benefits sections. FindLaw's Voting Rights section contains additional articles about state and federal election laws.