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Minnesota’s Time Off to Vote Law: Managing Employee Voting Absences in Compliance with the Law

The presidential election is just weeks away and serves as a reminder to Minnesota employers to familiarize themselves with Minnesota’s “Time Off to Vote” law.  Minnesota law provides that “every employee who is eligible to vote in an election has the right to be absent from work for the time necessary to appear at the employee’s polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work on the day of that election, without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence.”  Further, employers may not directly or indirectly refuse or otherwise interfere with an employee’s right to take the time to vote.  So what can employers do to ensure compliance with the law while simultaneously meeting business needs during employee voting absences?

First, although the law provides employees the right to be absent from work, it does not specify a time of day.  Therefore, in my opinion, the law likely allows employers to reasonably coordinate the timing of multiple requests for leave to vote to meet business needs.  For example, employees that live and vote some distance from work may leave earlier in the day in order to be given enough time to travel to their polling place, vote, return to work and still complete their job duties.

Second, employers may suggest, but not require, that employees vote before or after their work shift if appropriate time allows.  However, while most employees are able to vote outside of work hours, those that are unable or choose not to do so must still be excused from work for the time necessary to vote and return to work, and cannot be disciplined for doing so.

Third, employers can likely require that employees provide advance notice of when they expect to be absent to vote.  This is a common sense measure that can assist employers with staffing and operational needs, and in my opinion does not in any way interfere with the employee’s right to be absent from work to vote and return to the job.

Fourth, the law does not prevent an employer from looking into situations where it appears an employee has abused the right to be absent from work to vote.  For example, the law does not allow an employee to stop at home and rest after voting before returning to work.  Even though it may be difficult to determine whether an employee who appears to be taking an inordinate amount of time to return to work is doing anything other than voting, employers are capable of, and should, address suspected abuses.

For further guidance or questions regarding Minnesota’s “Time Off to Vote” law or any other employment law matter, Rinke Noonan attorney Chad A. Staul can be reached by email at cstaul@rinkenoonan.com or by phone at (320) 251-6700.

© 2016 Rinke Noonan