Ohio Election Laws prohibit any employer from discharging or threatening to discharge an “elector” for taking “a reasonable amount of time” to vote on Election Day. Despite the expansion of polling hours in recent years, this 1953 statute remains on the books today. While no minimum or maximum amount of time is specified as being “reasonable,” employers should consider relevant factors, such as travel time from the worksite to the particular polling site and back, the means of travel, and any known characteristics of the polling site that may cause delay.
The term “elector” does not necessarily encompass all employees. The term is defined as:
a “citizen of the United States who is of the age of eighteen years or over and who has been a resident of the state 30 days immediately preceding the election at which the citizen offers to vote, is a resident of the county and precinct in which the citizen offers to vote, and has been registered to vote for 30 days.”
Given this definition’s level of detail and the likely difficulty in readily verifying the information, it may be prudent for an employer to accept an employee’s self-identification as an “elector.” If an employer chooses to inquire whether an employee meets this definition, the employer should avoid treating members of a statutorily-protected class, such as race or national origin, differently than workers who are not in such a class.
Hourly Employees Not Entitled To Paid Time Off
According to a 1950 Attorney General’s opinion, employers cannot dock the pay of salaried employees for their reasonable absence from work to vote. In contrast, employers are not required to pay workers employed on a piecework, commission, or an hourly basis for their time away from work to vote. The reasoning behind this distinction is that the latter group of employees are entitled only to compensation for work actually performed or for the amount of time actually spent in their employment; thus, they do not incur a loss or a reduction in compensation when absent from work due to voting.1
If an employer reduces a salaried employee’s wages for the reasonable time spent voting, such action would result in an “injury” or “loss” to the employee and amount to a withholding of wages. If the employer did so in order to induce or compel the employee to vote or refrain from voting for or against any person, question or issue on the ballot, the employer would violate Ohio Election Law and be subject to a fine varying between $50 and $500 per incident. Such a practice may also run afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act and/or Ohio wage and hour law.
Other Ohio Election Law Prohibitions
Ohio law forbids employers from:
- Requiring an employee to accompany the employer (e.g., a member of management) to the voting place on Election Day, and/or
- Refusing to permit an employee to serve as an election official on any registration or Election Day.
Laws of Neighboring States
A few of Ohio’s neighboring states also provide employees with time off to vote in certain circumstances. For example, Kentucky permits unpaid absences of not less than four hours, and West Virginia permits paid absences of up to three hours, with exceptions. In both states, advance notice from the employee is required.2 In contrast, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania do not have time-off-to-vote laws.