Employers are helping to drive Election Day turnout

October 24, 2018

While there are no federal laws requiring companies to give employees time off from work to vote, a majority of states do have rules on the books designed to ensure that workers can make it to the polls on Election Day. Most require that companies provide staff members with a minimum of one or two hours to cast their ballots.

However, this year, many employers are not just complying with local laws; they are stepping up and taking an active role in helping their workers to register and vote in the midterm elections, The Washington Post reported on October 22.

According to the Post, Cava—a Washington, D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants— has promised its 1,600 workers nationwide two hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day, if they request the time in advance.

Co-founder Ted Xenohristos said Cava believes it is one of the first national restaurant groups to have such a policy, and what it costs will depend on how many of his employees choose to vote. For him, what matters is that they do.

“As first-generation Americans, we’re proud to participate in the system,” he said. “We wanted to share that with our team members and make it a little easier for them to vote.”

What’s more, a coalition of 140 U.S. companies–among them, Kaiser Permanente, Farmers Insurance, Gap, Levi Strauss., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods, and Walmart— has pledged to increase voter turnout.

“The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, recently as low as 36%, and one of the most common reasons that people give for not voting is that they are too busy, or have work and life demands that prevent them from voting,” the coalition said in a press release, adding, “The Time to Vote campaign also aims to increase awareness about the steps employers can take to allow time for their employees to vote.

“The companies joining this campaign are committed to increasing voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a day without meetings; and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. And all of them care about their workforces and supporting democracy.”

The coalition was formed, the Post reports, following a call-in conversation last June led by Rose Marcario, the CEO of outdoor retailer Patagonia, which grabbed headlines for closing its stores and giving workers paid time off for Election Day in 2016— something the stores will do again this year.

Examples of other coalition members that are taking creative steps to bring out the vote include the following:

  • For the first time, Tyson Foods, the meat company, has launched a company-wide voter registration initiative; with many of its plants participating in an effort to register employees and offer details about early voting, absentee ballots and voting locations.
  • Levi Strauss has named volunteer “voting captains” in each of its offices and distribution centers; who will hold registration drives and educate workers. The company also is also giving employees, including retail workers, paid time off to vote.

Meanwhile, a Vote.org project launched in March—dubbed ElectionDay.org—has convinced more than 250 employers, including Pinterest and Diageo, to offer some kind of paid time off or flexible leave on Election Day

“In the past, companies have assumed this was something that was taken care of from a legal standpoint,” Colette Kessler, director of partnerships for Vote.org, told the Post.

More recently, she said in an interview, companies have been taking an inventory of their policies and looking for creative ways to prevent work excuses from keeping people from the polls. “The shift I’m seeing is an interest in really understanding what do they provide, what are the holes in their states’ laws they can … [close] up.”

Research contact: jena.mcgregor@washpost.com

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