Employees Are Citizens, Too - But Can They Take Time Off Work to Vote?

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We use personal time off from work to tend to a variety of duties, from professional development to medical appointments to childcare and vacation, but have you ever wondered, “Am I allowed time off from work to vote on Election Day?” It’s only natural to wonder if fulfilling our civic duty would qualify us to step away from the workplace. After all, employees are citizens, too.

With the upcoming Chicago mayoral election on Tuesday, February 26, employers and employees should keep in mind their duties and rights on Election Day. As Chicago residents, eligible voters may cast their ballot for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer, and alderman at their assigned precinct between the hours of 6:00 AM and 7:00 PM on Election Day.

And as voters, employees may take paid leave for voting on Election Day. In fact, no employer may refuse an employee the privilege of time off from work, or subject the employee to a penalty, such as a reduction in compensation, due to leaving work in order to cast their ballot. That said, taking leave to vote is subject to the following criteria:

  • The employee must give the employer notice of the need for voting leave, prior to Election Day (the Election Code does not specify what type of notice is required);
  • The employer may specify the hours during which the employee may be absent;
  • The employer must permit a two-hour absence during the workday if the employee begins work less than two hours after the opening of the polls (i.e., before 7:59 a.m. for this election) and ends work less than two hours before the closing of the polls (i.e., after 5:01 p.m. for this election). (10 ILCS 5/17-15)

If an employee works outside the parameters allowed to take paid leave for voting during the work day, employees must vote within the two hours before or after their shift. For example, an employee who works from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM has two and a half hours to vote in the morning before work, and two hours following work to vote before the polls close at 7:00 PM. However, be sure to read your employer’s policies and communicate with your supervisors regarding time off for voting, as your workplace policy may be more generous than Illinois law.

Individuals who choose to participate as election judges on February 26 have additional Election Day rights under Illinois law. Any person who is appointed as an election judge, after giving his or her employer at least 20 days' written notice, may be absent from work for the purpose of serving as an election judge. An employer may not penalize employees for their absence when serving as an election judge, but the employers do not have to pay these individuals for their absence. Still, an employer cannot require an employee to use their earned vacation or paid time off to serve as an election judge.

Employers and employees should take initiative ahead of Election Day to communicate expectations and standards for voting leave and election participation. Furthermore, employers should re-assess current policies to ensure that their voting leave policies are, at a minimum, in compliance with Illinois law.