Can You Get Time Off to Vote? Only in Rare Cases

Can federal employees get time off to vote? Guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management during the last election outlines the circumstances under which federal workers might be able to obtain leave for voting.

With today being an election day, federal employees may be wondering if they can get leave to vote. The short answer is most likely “no,” but it’s up to each individual agency to decide according to the most recent guidance from OPM.

During the last election year, then OPM director John Berry issued a memo with guidance for giving federal workers time off to vote. We posted an article on the subject at that time, but here is a summary of what that article and the memo said:

Each agency has discretion to grant excused absence to employees, but only in limited circumstances when the time off does not interfere with agency operations.

OPM recommends that agencies only consider giving employees time off to vote in places where the polls are not open at least 3 hours either before or after an employee’s regular work hours.

For example, if an employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the employee should not be granted excused absence for voting, since the employee would still have at least 3 hours after the end of his or her workday to vote. However, if an employee is scheduled to work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the employee may be granted half an hour of excused absence from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., if requested.

OPM also says an excused absence could be granted for these circumstances:

Extended commuting distance
If the employee’s polling place is beyond normal commuting distance and voting by absentee ballot isn’t permitted, then an agency can grant an excused absence, not to exceed one day, to make the trip to vote.

Early voting
Some employees, such as those with alternative work schedules, may find early voting more convenient than voting on election day. OPM says that agencies should only grant excused absences for early voting when the employee won’t be able to vote on election day due to activities directly related to the agency’s mission (such as travel), or when early voting hours are the same as, or exceed, voting hours on the day of the election.

If an employee chooses to vote earlier, but the hours in which polling places are open are shorter than on election day, the employee is not eligible for excused absence because the employee has opted to vote at that time. Also, an agency should not grant excused absence if an employee’s non-workday on his or her compressed or other alternative work schedule falls on a day that his or her polling place is open for voting.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.