Q: I have always been encouraged to vote by past employers. I recently accepted a new job in early September. I left work about 45 minutes early to vote in the September primaries in my hometown polling location. Since I moved over the summer, it was the first time I voted at this location so I was unsure of exactly how to get there. When I arrived at work the next day, I was “spoken” to about leaving early the day before. Shouldn’t citizens be allowed a little slack to vote? Is there any law that covers this? I have never had this problem in the past. My manager is not very aware of US laws.
A: Wow. I am sorry that this happened to you. All voters should be permitted to vote in both primaries and regular elections.
If you just accepted your new role and began work in September, you are probably still learning about the company culture, expectations and even your manager’s work style. You don’t provide this information but I am hoping that you notified your manager before you left early and didn’t simple “close up shop” and leave for the day.
In fact, you are correct in your assumption that employees should be permitted to take time off from work to vote. Under Massachusetts law, an employer must give an employee up to two hours off to vote in an election – either a primary or general election. The employer does not have to pay the employee for any time taken off for the purpose of voting.
Although not explicitly required within the Massachusetts law, I think one way of demonstrating a high level of professionalism would be to make this request in advance of the primary date. Perhaps in an email or person-to-person exchange may have been the best way to request this time off from your manager. One approach: “Tom, I want to vote on Tuesday. Would you prefer that I vote in the morning and arrive a few minutes past 9am, or would you prefer that I leave a bit early to vote on my way home?”
Most managers would understand the need to allow some extra time for traveling to a new polling location or a perhaps a particularly long commute to a polling location. Supervisors and managers still have to oversee the operational functioning of their departments and/or areas of responsibility on election days. Your manager may have had to balance several requests of this nature. However, the law is clear -- all voters should be allowed time off to vote.