Unless you’ve been walking around with blinders on the past few months, you probably haven’t been able to help but notice that the midterm elections are just around the corner. State and city campaigns are getting heated, and political ads are permeating the media.
If you have a vested interest in the outcome of any political race, it may be important for you to get out and cast your ballot on election day. However, you may be worried about the time constraints your job places on your ability to vote. The polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on November 6. If you work a double shift that day or have a long-distance commute to contend with, finding sufficient time to get to the polls may be tricky.
Voting in advance of the election isn’t an option for everyone. In New York, the opportunity for early voting won’t go into effect until 2019. And you can’t vote absentee unless you have a qualifying reason for being unable to vote in person on election day. However, the state of New York does offer some legal protections for employees who want to vote.
Getting paid to vote
Under New York law, if the polls aren’t open for at least four consecutive hours before or after your work shift, then your employer must give you paid time off to go vote. Your paid leave for this purpose caps at two hours, but if you need more time than this to vote, your employer must still grant the extra leave–though it may be unpaid. The law states that your employer has the option of determining whether your leave occur at the beginning or end of your shift. If your employer prevents you from voting in accordance with these guidelines, they could face serious penalties–including losing their corporate charter.
You have to give your employer notice whenever you take vacation time. The same applies to voting leave. If you expect that you’ll have to use work time to vote on election day, you have to make preparations in advance. You must notify your employer of your voting leave between two and 10 working days before the election.
In addition, at least 10 working days before any election, it’s your employer’s responsibility to clearly and conspicuously post notifications around your place of work, advising employees about their right to paid time off to vote.
Your right to participate in democracy is non-negotiable. It’s important to understand how New York and federal laws protect employees’ fundamental rights.