It’s an election year and election day is quickly approaching. As a federal employee, you may be wondering, “Can I get time off from work to go vote?”
The short answer is yes, but it shouldn’t be necessary most of the time.
The Office of Personnel Management recently released guidance for agency HR officers on what the official policy is for time off to vote. In the memo, acting OPM director Beth Cobert states:
Agencies have discretionary authority to grant excused absence to the extent that such time off does not interfere with agency operations, including the ability to adjust policies to circumstances as they unfold. Typically, polling places throughout the United States are open for extended periods of time, and an increasing number of jurisdictions are offering early voting options. Therefore, excused absence should rarely be needed.
So when might a federal employee be given the time off? It would be in scenarios such as these as described in the memo:
Polling location hours
Generally, OPM has advised agencies that where the polls are not open at least 3 hours either before or after an employee’s regular work hours, an agency may grant a limited amount of excused absence to permit the employee to report for work 3 hours after the polls open or leave from work 3 hours before the polls close, whichever requires the lesser amount of time off. An employee’s “regular work hours” should be determined by reference to the time of day the employee normally arrives at and departs from work.
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 ½ hour of excused absence from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., if requested.
Employees on Alternative Work Schedules whose regular day off is scheduled for the day polls are open should not be permitted to change their regular day off solely for the purpose of gaining excused absence for voting.
Extended commuting distance
If an employee’s voting place is beyond normal commuting distance and vote by absentee ballot is not permitted, the agency may grant excused absence (not to exceed 1 day) to allow the employee to make the trip to the voting place to cast a ballot. If more than 1 day is needed, the employee may request annual leave or leave without pay for the additional period of absence.
What about early voting?
OPM says that agencies should grant excused absence for early voting only when (1) the employee will be unable to vote on the day of the election because of activities directly related to the agency’s mission (such as Temporary Duty (TDY) travel) and cannot vote by absentee ballot, or (2) early voting hours are the same as, or exceed, voting hours on the day of the election, in which case the information provided under “Granting Excused Absence for Voting” applies.
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.
Some want to just make election day a national holiday to give American workers another paid holiday each year.
In 2014 for example, Bernie Sanders put forth legislation to create “Democracy Day,” a national holiday that would give people the day off to vote. Sanders said it was necessary because voter turnout was low and wanted to increase turnout among younger and lower income voters. (See Bernie Sanders Wants to Make Election Day a National Holiday)
The bill never passed, but Sanders reintroduced it again in the next session of Congress. It is unlikely that it will pass this time around since it failed to advance previously.