Minnesota employers should know that Minnesota’s “Voting Time Off” statute (section 204C.04) has changed since the last presidential election. Previously, employees who were eligible to vote were allowed up to two hours of paid time off from work in the morning on Election Day. The amended statute allows employees to go to the polls at any time during the workday to cast their ballots and return to work without any reduction in pay.

The main part of the statute reads as follows: “[Subdivision 1.] Right to be absent. Every employee who is eligible to vote in an election has the right to be absent from work for the time necessary to appear at the employee’s polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work on the day of that election, without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence. An employer or other person may not directly or indirectly refuse, abridge, or interfere with this right or any other election right of an employee.”

Employers may request that their employees schedule their absences in advance and may request that they coordinate time off from work with other employees in order to minimize disruption and loss of productivity. It is unclear under the amended statute whether an employer has the right to insist that an employee go to the polls at a particular time of day, and the language of the law suggests that it is the employee’s decision when he or she wishes to vote. Since the polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, 2012, most employees will be able to go to the polls either before or after their normal work schedule. But, employers should expect—in light of the new law—that many more employees than in the past will request permission to leave during the work day, arrive late, or leave early to go to the polls, and employers must accommodate those requests. In fact, the amended statute speaks of an employee “returning to work,” but other language indicates that it is the employee’s decision when to vote. This new procedure may require some additional patience and flexibility on the part of employers in this election cycle.

The law also provides that any person who violates it can be prosecuted for a criminal misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.