Are Federal Employees Allowed Time Off to Vote?

September 29, 2020 4:40 PM
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Because it’s an election year, federal employees may be wondering if they can take time off from work to vote. The Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance for the 2020 election explaining when agencies can grant excused absences to federal employees for voting.

The short answer is that agencies are allowed to grant excused absences so employees can take time to vote, but only in limited circumstances.

According to OPM’s updated guidance for the 2020 elections, “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.”

OPM goes on to say in the memo that when polls are not open at least 3 hours before or after an employee’s shift, “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.”

Also, with respect to early voting, the OPM memo says that some employees may find it necessary to vote early because of their work schedules on the day of the election. In those instances, OPM says this about early voting:

Agencies should grant excused absence for early voting on a scheduled workday 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. 

OPM’s memo also provides details about granting excused absences for employees who take time off to serve as non-partisan election officials to assist at polling stations. OPM’s memo is encouraging of this volunteer work and notes that agencies should grant “excused absence to the maximum extent possible while accounting for the responsibilities and duties to carry out the agency mission.”

Federal employees with questions about their specific situations should contact their local human resources representatives for assistance or information.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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