This week’s question comes from Laird in Oakland: I work in construction, and I am often at the worksite for 10-12 hours each day. I often don’t get off work until after 7 p.m. I am afraid that this will not give me time to vote on election day. I don’t feel comfortable mailing my ballot. I want my vote counted right there on election day. Can I use sick time to go to the polls on election day?
Thank you for this very important question which affects many workers. I completely understand that you would prefer to place your ballot in person rather than mailing it. I have good news. The law allows workers to take time off from their position in order to vote and doing so does not require the use of accrued sick leave.
California Elections Code § 14000 provides employees with the right to take reasonable time off to vote, without loss of pay, if a voter does not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote in a statewide election. Specifically, the Elections Code states that,
“the voter may, without loss of pay, take off enough working time that, when added to the voting time available outside of working hours, will enable the voter to vote. No more than two hours of the time taken off for voting shall be without loss of pay,” and that, “time off for voting shall be only at the beginning or end of the regular working shift, whichever allows the most free time for voting and the least time off from the regular working shift, unless otherwise mutually agreed.” Furthermore, if a worker knows, or believes, on the third working day prior to the election, that time off will be necessary to be able to vote on election day, this code states that, “the employee shall give the employer at least two working days’ notice that time off for voting is desired…”
For you, if it appears that you will be at the job site for 12 hours on election day, and will not be off work until 7:00, as you suggested, that may not give you the opportunity to get to the polls to vote. You should notify your employer, in writing, three days prior to election day, that you will need to take time off to vote. You can work out with your employer whether it makes more sense to go to the polls when they open and then come in to work, or to leave early with enough time to get to your polling place.
Employers also need to be aware that for at least 10 days before every statewide election, every employer must keep posted a notice setting forth the provisions of California Elections Code § 14000 so that employees like you are aware of their rights. The notice must be placed conspicuously at the place of work, if practicable, or elsewhere where it can be seen as employees come or go to their place of work.
Another important aspect of this code is that it would likely be unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you, or any person who made use of these provisions of the Elections Code to vote. We would argue that an employer who terminates an employee for exercising their right to vote would have engaged in, “wrongful termination in violation of public policy,” a cause of action in a lawsuit available when someone is terminated in violation of a fundamental public policy. A wrongful termination cause of action provides for recovery of economic damages such as lost wages and benefits, non-economic losses such as anxiety, stress, emotional distress, fear and humiliation and, if the denial was the decision of an officer, director or, “managing agent,” of the employer, even punitive damages. Importantly, since you work in construction, a field with many Union employees, any collective bargaining agreement provision, which seeks to waive an employee’s right to pay for time taken off to vote, has been held by the courts to be against public policy, contrary to express provision of law and invalid.