SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — It’s a form of paid time off that predates sick leave.
California requires businesses to give an employee up to two hours of paid time off on Election Day to vote, if the employee is unable to vote during non-working hours.
“They can take advantage of this paid time off at either the beginning of their shift or at the end of their shift and they can take as much time as they need to vote. But realize that only up to two hours of that time is going to be with pay,” said attorney Dan Eaton.
Eaton said Californians have had some sort of mandatory paid time off to vote since 1891, making it the oldest kind of mandatory PTO.
Workers who want to take advantage of this must notify their bosses two working days in advance. For people who work Monday through Friday, Eaton said they need to inform their bosses first thing Friday morning, although there are exceptions for unforeseen circumstances.
The caveat is that this right is only for employees who cannot vote during their non-working hours.
It’s somewhat harder to make that argument this election cycle at a time when every registered voter in California got a mail-in ballot, and early in-person voting at polling places begins Saturday, but Eaton doesn’t expect much pushback from companies.
“There could be a court dispute but the optics of that are not going to be good even if, ultimately, the employer is legally justified,” he said.
Even though turnout is on pace to be record-breaking this year, the U.S. still ranks near the bottom in voter participation each year. It ranked 26 out of 32 countries in the 2016 election, according to the Pew Research Center.
So why not follow some other countries and make Election Day a national holiday?
The idea has been floated before but it hasn’t gotten far. Senator Bernie Sanders tried unsuccessfully in 2018.
“A federal holiday does not guarantee that your employer is going to close. And they’re expensive. Federal holidays tend to cost the federal government 450 million dollars just in personnel costs just for the one day in overtime,” said Matthew Weil at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Rather than a federal holiday, Weil said state holidays on Election Day can be helpful and several states have them. Among other advantages, he said they free up schools to be used as polling places.
But state holidays won’t give many voters the day off from work.