Election Day is upon us—and churches as employers need to note their potential legal obligations to give employees time off to vote.
As Kiplinger Letter recently noted, 29 states keep laws on the books that require employers to accommodate voting time of between one and four hours on Election Day. Of those states, 22 require the time off to be paid. Many also require the employers to notify employees of this benefit.
And sanctions in a dozen of these states, the publication said, can range from fines as high as $20,000 for employers—and $2,500 for supervisors—to the loss of the entity’s corporate charter.
An informal poll of attorneys from Church Law & Tax’s Editorial Advisory Board indicates the states with these statutes in place do not exempt churches, religious organizations, or other nonprofits from complying. For instance:
- Texas requires employers to provide up to two hours off to allow employees to vote if their scheduled work time does not provide at least two hours while the polls are open, according to attorney Frank Sommerville, an attorney and editorial advisor based in the state. For example, Texas polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. If someone was working a schedule of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., the employer must allow the employee to report one hour later or leave one hour earlier than their scheduled time.
As an aside, Sommerville noted, it is not clear how this type of law now works in light of the prevalence of early voting. “Since early voting also takes place on weekends, in addition to workdays, I wonder whether the law only applies to the actual Election Day, or, can the employer say that the employee had at least two hours available on their off-duty days?” Sommerville said. Either way, churches in Texas should note the existence of the law and comply accordingly until further notice.
- New York also requires two hours of paid time off for employees to vote on Election Day, said attorney and editorial advisor Gisele Kalonzo-Douglas, who serves as corporate counsel for Bethel Gospel Assembly in New York City.
- And Maryland requires two hours of paid time off, but it is not required if the employee has two consecutive non-work hours available while polls are open, said attorney and editorial advisor Midgett Parker, who is based in the state. It is not clear whether any exemptions for churches and religious organizations exists, Parker added, but “my gut tells me that there are no exemptions.”
Bottom line: Church leaders should find out whether their state enforces a mandate like this on Election Day. WorkplaceFairness.org offers a full state-by-state survey of the laws.
Matthew Branaugh is editor of Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax.
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