Do I need to take PTO to vote? Ask HR

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Special to USA TODAY
A growing number of employers are providing time off for employees to vote.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: Voting matters to me but, between my job and my kids attending school virtually, I’m worried I won’t arrive before polls close. Must I use personal paid time off or lose hours if I want to vote?

– Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: It’s hard to believe, but Election Day is right around the corner. Now, whether can take time away from work  – be it paid or unpaid – to cast your vote on Nov. 3 will depend on where you work.

There are no federal laws guaranteeing employees can take time off to go vote. However, many states have laws requiring employers to allow employees to take time (unpaid) to vote; there are also some states, albeit a smaller number, where employers are required to provide paid time off.  

Taking leave to vote will often depend on whether you’re a salaried or hourly employee. If salaried, you are required to be paid for a full day without having your pay docked, however, your employer may still require you to use your paid time off (PTO) for any time away from work. Hourly employees, under federal law, are not required to be paid for hours that they do not work. They might have to go unpaid or take paid leave.

That said, a growing number of employers are providing time off to vote, even if they are not mandated by state or federal law to do so. Your organization could very well be among these organizations supporting employee participation in the political process. If you aren’t sure, simply reach out to HR to find out.

I’ll also add this: The COVID-19 pandemic may change the way many Americans participate in this year’s elections. Whether it is voting by mail or voting in person, I encourage you to read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest guidance on how to be safe at the polls or how to find safe alternatives if you are unable to travel to polling locations.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to take a break to do your civic duty. But, even if you can’t do so in person, you do have options in the forms of an absentee ballot or voting early in-person.

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Q: What can I do if my employer is faking COVID-19 compliance? To look good, my company posted signage showcasing we were complying with CDC guidelines for incoming visitors. As soon as visitors left, masks came off and no further enforcement occurred.

– Anonymous

Taylor:  Thanks for this question. I am sorry to hear you feel your employer isn’t adhering to the guidelines issued by the CDC.

It’s critical for organizations that are back in the office to maintain a reasonably safe workplace for employees and visitors. In certain cases, it’s even required by law. For example, there are many different state and local ordinances that may apply to your workplace, such as requiring regular cleaning and mask-wearing.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work, but that employers can decide not to, "based on the specific circumstances present at the worksite."

You don’t mention where you work. But, if it’s a public-facing setting where you work closely with others (health care, education, etc.) you’re likely required to follow the guidance of public health officials’ guidance. That said, if you feel unsafe at work, you could – and probably should – share your concern with HR.  

If you do this, don’t be afraid. After all, employees have protections from retaliation for addressing safety concerns with their employer. Should your organization ignore or dismiss your concern, however, then that would be another question (i.e. filing a complaint with OSHA) which, I’m afraid, I don’t have adequate column space to properly answer right now.

Thank you again for writing with such a great question. Be well!