Time Off to Vote: State Laws for Employers in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania & West Virginia
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Employers should educate themselves on state laws governing time off to vote.
While no federal law mandates that private employers allow employees time off to vote in public elections, most states have such requirements. State voting leave laws typically cover all employers and any employee registered to vote within that state. However, such laws differ substantially from one state to the next. For example, West Virginia requires that employees be paid for time off to vote (with limited exceptions), yet Kentucky’s statute does not state that the employee must be paid. Several states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, allow employers to require advance notice and to specify the hours of leave for certain employees. Many states, including Ohio and West Virginia, impose criminal penalties upon those employers who discharge or otherwise penalize employees for taking time off work to exercise their right to vote. Employers must plan ahead to comply with the law and to minimize disruption to their businesses.
Who’s covered? Kentucky law applies to all private and public employers and cover any registered voter.
What must Kentucky employers do? Employers must provide employees a reasonable amount of leave, but not less than four hours, in which to vote in an election, between the opening and closing of the polls (or up to four hours to request application or execute absentee ballot, on day appearing before clerk, during business hours). The law does not specify that the employer must pay the employee for time off to vote, but provides that an employee may not be penalized for taking time off. Employers can require that the employee apply for voting leave prior to Election Day and can specify the hours that the employee may be absent.
Do election officers receive additional leave time in Kentucky? An employee selected to be an election officer is entitled to a leave of absence from employment for an entire day for training as an election officer and/or to serve as an election officer.
What actions are prohibited in Kentucky? State law prohibits an employer from:
- penalizing or subjecting an employee to disciplinary action for taking a reasonable time off to vote unless the employee, under circumstances that did not prohibit him or her from voting, takes time off but fails to vote;
- discharging an employee for exercising the right to vote;
- attempting to coerce, influence or direct an employee's vote for a political party, candidate, platform, principle, or issue through bribes, promises, favors, or other inducements;
- threatening to discharge an employee if he or she votes for any candidate;
- circulating any statement or report that employees are expected to vote for any person, group of persons, or measure; and
- penalizing, discharging or threatening to discharge an employee for taking off on election day to exercise his or her right to serve as an election officer.
Who’s covered? Ohio law applies to all private and public employers and cover any registered voter.
What must Ohio employers do? Employers must provide employees a reasonable time (a specific amount is not specified) in which to vote on election day. The law does not specify that the employer must pay the employee for time off to vote. Further, the law does not specify whether the employer may require that the employee apply for voting leave prior to election day or may specify the hours that the employee may be absent, but such parameters are not prohibited.
Do election officers receive additional leave in Ohio? Public employees, with some exceptions, are entitled to time off from work to serve as precinct election officials on election day without loss of regular compensation.
What actions are prohibited in Ohio? State law prohibits an employer from:
- discharging or threatening to discharge an employee for taking a reasonable amount of time to vote on election day; and
- refusing to permit an employee to serve as an election official on any registration or election day.
Penalties for voting leave violations may include orders directing the employer to pay a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $500.
Pennsylvania law does not mandate that employers grant employees time off work to vote on election day. However employers are prohibited from directly or indirectly influencing the political opinions or activities of employees.
What actions are prohibited in Pennsylvania? State law prohibits an employer from:
- directly or indirectly influencing the political opinions or action of employees;
- threats, violence, intimidation or coercion to compel a person to vote or to refrain from voting at any election or for any person or question;
- preventing a person from voting;
- writing on any pay envelope of an employee any political motto, threats or other influence;
- making use of handbills or placards or other exhibits in the workplace within 90 days of an election;
- threatening to reduce wages, shut down operations or other such influence on an employee’s voting; and
- bribery, influence, intimidation, promise of employment or threat of discharge regarding a person’s voting for or against a candidate or constitutional amendment or other question at any primary or election.
West Virginia Employers
Who’s covered? West Virginia law applies to all private and public employers and covers any registered voter.
What must West Virginia employers do? Employers must provide employees up to three hours of paid leave between the opening and closing of the polls to allow the employee to vote in an election, provided the employee has submitted a written request at least three days before the election. No deduction may be made from the employee's wages or salary for such leave unless the employee takes voting leave and elects not to vote. Provided each employee is given reasonable time to vote, employers may specify the hours of leave for workers in essential health, hospital, transportation and communication services or in production, manufacturing, or processing plants requiring continuity of operations, so as to avoid impairment or disruption of services and operations.
What actions are prohibited in West Virginia? State law prohibits employers and corporations from:
- influencing an employee’s political views or actions;
- violating time off to vote provisions;
- preventing or attempting to prevent a voter from attending an election or from exercising his or her free right to vote; and
- depriving employment or threatening discharge from employment because the employee casts or refuses to cast his or her vote.
A corporation that violates the voting leave provisions is subject to a fine up to $1,000. Employers other than corporations are subject to a fine up to $500, imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, or both a fine and imprisonment.