By Victor F. Albert
Special to The Sun
OKLA. CITY —
With the national, state and local election set for Tuesday, many area employers need to know their responsibilities and rights regarding time off for employees to vote, and political statements in the workplace.
Q. What must employers provide as time off for employees to vote?
A. Employers are required by Oklahoma law to give employees who are registered to vote up to two hours off work in order to vote.
Q. Are there exceptions to this based on the start or end time of the employee’s shift?
A. Yes. If an employee’s shift begins three hours after the polls open, or if the shift ends three hours before the polls close, then the employee is not entitled to time off from work to vote. Since the polls in Oklahoma are open from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m., employees whose shift starts at 10 a.m. or later, or whose shift ends at 4 p.m. or earlier are not entitled to time off from work to vote.
Q. What process does the employee need to go through to request time off to vote?
A. The day prior to the election, this Monday, the employee has to notify the employer that he or she will need time off work in order to vote. A formal notice is not required. A spoken statement or email by the employee that he or she will need time off to vote suffices under the law.
Q. How may employers make sure that too many employees are not gone at a given time to vote?
A. Once informed that an employee intends to vote, the employer is allowed to designate the two hours of time off for the employee to vote. The employer needs to add any additional time to travel to and from the polling place to vote. So, the employer will want to have employees located the furthest from the workplace to vote early or late in order to avoid staffing problems during the workday. Also, the shift start time may be changed to 10 a.m. or the shift end time may be changed to 4 p.m. in order to comply with the voting law.
Q. Is this paid time off, or unpaid time off?
A. The time off work to vote is to be paid time off. If the employer chooses, it can require the employee to provide some type of proof that he or she voted. The Election Board representatives at the polling place can provide the employee with a sticker or something to show that the employee voted. However, this needs to be consistently enforced, and if proof of voting is required of any employees it needs to be required of all employees. Most employers will just take the employee’s word on this.
Q. Are employees entitled to voice their political beliefs or comments in the workplace?
A. Yes. As long as the voicing of those views does not cross the line to being harassing, unlawfully discriminatory or cause a disruption in the workplace, then employees are entitled to discuss openly their political views even if those views are not the same as their boss or supervisor.
Q. What about social media? Are employers entitled to regulate what political views an employee makes on social media sites?
A. No. Employers may not regulate generally what an employee says on social media sites unless such involves a sharing of confidential employer, client or customer information, or is harassing or unlawfully discriminatory. Almost all political statements that employees make on social network sites will not involve statements of this type. So employers are not entitled to take disciplinary action against employees for stating their personal political views on such sites.
VICTOR F. ALBERT is an employment law attorney for Conner & Winters LLP.