With Election Day rapidly approaching, it is important for Illinois employers to understand their obligations to employees seeking to exercise their right to vote on November 6, 2012. Federal law does not require employers to provide employees with time off to vote on Election Day. Many states, however — including Illinois — regulate and provide for time away from work for employees on Election Day.
Paid Time Off Required Under Limited Circumstances
In Illinois, employees entitled to vote have a right to be absent from work for a period of up to two hours between the opening and the closing of polls. This, however, is not a blanket right or one that can be invoked by employees without any regulation. Rather, employers should keep the following in mind on Election Day:
- Employees are entitled to take time away from work to vote only if they have applied or informed their employer of their need for time away from work before Election Day. Employers are not required under the law to allow an employee two hours off to vote if the request is made on Election Day.
- Employees are only entitled to up to two successive hours off to vote.
- The two-hour absence for voting may only occur during times when the polls are open. In Illinois, polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Only individuals “entitled to vote” in a general or special election or at any election at which propositions are submitted to popular vote are entitled to be absent for two hours to vote. Employers can request proof of an employee’s eligibility to vote when receiving a request for time off to vote during work hours. To show eligibility, employees can submit a copy of their voter registration card, or employees or employers can check registration status on the following websites:
- Cook County residents:
- Chicago residents:
- Lake County residents.
- Madison County residents:
- Champaign County residents
- In most cases, an employer may specify the two hours during which an employee may be absent from work commitments to vote. In most instances, employers can encourage employees to vote at specific times that do not conflict with their work commitments. For example, an employer may specify that an employee whose shift starts at 10:00 a.m. must vote between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
Although in most instances employers have the right to specify the hours an employee may be absent from work to vote, employers must permit a two-hour absence during working hours where an employee’s working hours begin less than two hours after polls open (6:00 a.m.) and end less than two hours before polls close (7:00 p.m.). In such cases, there is no two-hour window outside of an employee’s work shift, within which he or she may have time to vote. Thus, an absence during a shift is necessary to provide an employee with sufficient time to vote.
- For example, an employer would be required to allow a two-hour absence during work hours for an employee scheduled to work from 7:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Such an employee both began a shift less than two hours after polls opened and ended the shift less than two hours before they closed.
- Employees who are forced to take a two-hour absence during their work hours are entitled to be paid for their leave to vote.
- Employers may not subject their employees to any penalties for any time an employee takes to vote.
Employees Serving As Election Judges
Illinois employers with 25 or more employees are also required to accommodate employees engaging in other election-related activities, such as serving as an election judge. An employee appointed to serve as an election judge is entitled to be absent from work for serving in that capacity. Once again, however, there are limitations on this right:
- An employee must give his or her employer at least 20 days written notice of his or her absence.
- Although an employer cannot penalize an employee for being absent to serve as an election judge, employers are not required to pay the employee for their time away from work to serve as an election judge.