Pamela Tahim Thakur
Election Day is Coming: What Do California Employers Need to Know?
Tuesday, November 3, 2020, is election day, the day when the citizens of our great nation will take part in the democratic process of casting votes in what is being hailed as the most important election in U.S. history. But, for many working people and their employers, it's also another workday. So, what should employers know, in order to ensure their employees, have a chance to exercise their right on this most important of days but make sure that business carries on as usual?
Fortunately, reports abound of massive early voter turnouts and many employers will likely find that many of their workforces have already cast their ballots by mail than in prior election cycles. Many localities, however, are still bracing for record turnouts, as voters cast ballots on election day to decide the outcome of many possible photo finishes in ballot races at the national, state, and local levels.
This means that all employers should, without a doubt, have a plan that will enable workers to head out to the polls with minimal interruption to regular business operations. This is especially true in states, such as California, which require employers to allow employees to take paid time off work to vote, as well as post notices in the workplace advising their employees of this right. Indeed, employers who fail to do so may find themselves facing claims of discrimination or harassment, in the wake of election day.
The California Elections Code section 14001 requires employers to post a notice to employees advising them of provisions for taking paid leave for the purpose of voting in statewide elections. Employers can download a sample notice from the website of the California Secretary of State (https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/time-vote-notices). The notice must be posted either in the workplace or where it can be seen by employees as they enter or exit their place of work. Employers should also check their policy manuals and employee handbooks to ensure that their rules for voting leave are in line with the most current state of the law. But, most importantly, employers should make sure they follow the law, no matter what their written policy provides. In California, this means allowing employees to take up to two (2) hours of paid leave to cast their ballots, on November 3, 2020. Employees may be given as much time as they need in order to vote, but only a maximum of two hours must be paid.
Employees are eligible for paid time off for the purpose of voting only if they do not have time outside of working hours to vote. So before employers grant employees’ requests for paid time off to vote, they should ensure that such employees do not have an opportunity to vote outside their regularly scheduled work hours, keeping in mind that polls in California are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on election day.
To make sure that election day goes smoothly at work, employers may consider implementing some of the following practices. For example, pull the plug on TVs. One problem that comes up every election cycle is the fallout from confrontations between co-workers, who get embroiled in arguments about politics at the workplace. One way to avoid such challenging situations is to simply unplug the TVs in common areas for the day or tune them to channels that do not broadcast any sort of political commentary.
Employers should also remind employees that policies regarding workplace-related conduct still apply to conduct and statements over social media. Facebook and Twitter are frequently common battlegrounds for emotionally charged political debates between coworkers. While employers may be inclined to curb political speech altogether, such an approach might backfire by leading to claims of unequal or biased enforcement. It should be enough to advise employees that normal workplace rules relating to harassment and discrimination are still in effect on election day, and they pertain equally to online and physical conduct among coworkers.
Finally, both employers and employees need to be aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how voters will cast their ballots this year. In particular, fewer polling places will be available due to enhanced health and safety concerns. On August 6, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows voting centers to consolidate. Counties can now have one precinct per 10,000 voters instead of the usual 1,000 voters. As a result, early voting and mail-in ballots have been encouraged, as all registered voters have been automatically sent mail-in ballots. Ballot drops are open until the polls close at 8:00 p.m. in California and mail-in ballots may be post-marked as late as November 3, 2020.
The experienced attorneys at Thakur Law Firm, APC are available to answer election-related questions. Please do not hesitate to contact a Thakur Law Firm attorney today. for assistance.