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Voting takes legal precedence over work in more than half of the United States, and employers in many states risk fines or even jail sentences for interfering with their employees’ right to exercise their franchise, according to CCH Incorporated (CCH), a leading provider of employment law information, services and software. In other states, however, the law offers no special protection or incentive for someone who takes time out of the workday to cast a ballot. While federal law protects citizens’ right to vote, it is the codes of the individual states that arbitrate between that right and the rights of employers to discipline workers and not to pay them for time not worked. Laws governing time off to vote can be found in 31 states, while 19 states and the District of Columbia don’t address the question in their statute books. [Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia] “Typically, time-off-to-vote laws require that employees who are registered voters be given time off from work — usually up to two or three hours — in which to visit the polls,” explains CCH labor law analyst Ronald Miller. In many cases, though, time off is only guaranteed if the employee does not have sufficient time outside of working hours to cast a ballot. STRIKING A BALANCE In many states, the laws try to strike a balance between the interests of employee and employer. In 24 states, employees must be paid for time spent voting: employers are prohibited from penalizing an employee or making deductions from wages for at least part of the time the employee is authorized to be absent from work to cast a vote. Five states �–Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming — spell out in their statute books that workers will be paid for their time off only if they actually vote. Seventeen states require employees to give advance notice of their intention to take time off. Iowa and West Virginia add the requirement that the notification be in writing. Employers are allowed to specify the hours to be taken for voting in 20 states. RANGE OF PENALTIES “For firms that violate time-off-to-vote laws, penalties can range from trivial to a corporate death sentence,” said Miller. In Arkansas, failure to give an employee an opportunity to vote — without pay — is punishable by a fine as low as $25. The highest fines are authorized in Arizona, Kansas and Missouri, where an individual employer may be fined $2,500. Arizona further provides for corporations to be assessed up to $20,000. Twelve states add the possibility of jail time — from 30 days to a year — to monetary penalties. In Colorado and New York, businesses can forfeit their corporate charters if found in violation. Laws requiring payment for time off to vote were approved in 1952 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pair of decisions involving Missouri and California laws: Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. v. Missouriand Tide Water Associated Oil Co. v. Robinson. They were upheld as a proper exercise of the police power of the state. Included with this article is a chart listing those states with time-off-to vote laws, along with information on which employees are covered, the amount of time that may be taken, special conditions under which time off may be taken and penalties for employer violations of the laws. Also included is a list of those states that do not have time-off-to-vote laws. In addition to the U.S. states listed here, Puerto Rico provides that any day a general election, a referendum of general interest or a plebiscite is held is a legal holiday, employees must be allowed to vote. General elections are also considered legal holidays within the Virgin Islands, and employees who give prior notice are entitled to two hours off from work to vote, without loss of pay. Related Chart: Time Off to Vote in Elections Under State Laws �2000, CCH INCORPORATED. All Rights Reserved.

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