The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced a new policy granting administrative leave to federal employees to vote in federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial elections.
The new policy is in response to a recent executive order issued by President Biden entitled Promoting Access to Voting (Executive Order 14019). According to that EO, there are too many obstacles that Americans face to being able to vote, particularly for minorities. Consequently, the EO states, “It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to expand access to, and education about, voter registration and election information, and to combat misinformation, in order to enable all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.”
Part of the intent of OPM’s new leave policy is to goad other private companies into giving employees more paid leave by following its lead. As OPM director Kiran Ahuja said, “Today’s guidance advances fundamental goals of the Biden-Harris Administration: to promote democracy, reduce barriers to voting for federal employees, and further position the federal government as a model employer for other employers to follow. OPM is proud to help lead this effort.”
In accordance with that policy, OPM has issued new leave policies for federal employees to get paid time off to vote. Federal employees will now be allowed to take up to four hours of administrative leave to vote in elections. The leave policy also allows up to four hours per leave year for federal employees to serve as poll workers in elections.
However, OPM’s guidance also states that agencies must still be able to successfully operate, so federal employees have to get their supervisors’ approval before taking the time off.
According to OPM, “Administrative leave (also referred to as ‘excused absence’) is an administratively authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or charge to leave.”
It also adds, “Administrative leave is not an entitlement, and agencies are not required to grant it. However, in special circumstances covered by Governmentwide directives or in reaction to emergencies, agencies may have policies and practices in place that provide for automatic application of administrative leave.”
OPM’s New Leave Policy Promoting Voting for Federal Employees
According to OPM, the new leave policy is as follows:
- Agencies should allow employees to use up to 4 hours of administrative leave for voting in connection with each Federal general election day. The administrative leave may be used for voting on the Federal general election day or for early voting (i.e., voting prior to Federal general election day, as authorized by their jurisdiction).
- Agencies should allow employees to use up to 4 hours of administrative leave for voting in connection with each election event (including primaries and caucuses) at the Federal, State, local (i.e., county and municipal), Tribal, and territorial level that does not coincide with a Federal general election day. (If an election simultaneously involves more than one level, it is considered to be a single election event.) This administrative leave may be used for voting on the established election day or for early voting, whichever option is used by the employee with respect to an election event.
- For Federal special Congressional elections not held on the date of a Federal general election, agencies should allow employees to use up to 4 hours of administrative leave for voting. This administrative leave may be granted for voting on the established date of a special election or for authorized early voting in connection with that election.
- Agencies should also allow employees to use up to 4 hours of administrative leave per leave year to serve as a non-partisan poll worker or to participate in non-partisan observer activities at the Federal, State, local (i.e., county and municipal), Tribal, and territorial level. (A “leave year” begins on the first day of the first pay period commencing on or after January 1 of the given year and ends on the day before the first day of the next leave year.) This leave is in addition to any administrative leave an employee uses to vote.
OPM added the following about the new policy as well:
- Scheduling of administrative leave for the above-described purposes is subject to a determination by the agency that the employee can be relieved of duty during the specific period of time requested by the employee without significantly impairing mission- essential operations.
- If an employee needs to spend less than 4 hours to vote, only the needed amount of administrative leave should be granted.
- An agency should strive to accommodate employee leave requests by making necessary operational adjustments.
- Agencies should inform all employees of the availability of administrative leave for voting and non-partisan poll worker or non-partisan observer purposes.
- Administrative leave may not be used during a nonworkday or during overtime work hours outside the tour of duty established for leave charging purposes.
- Administrative leave may be used for any travel time to and from the employee’s voting poll location.
- An employee may use administrative leave for voting in connection with each covered election event in which the employee participates by voting. However, an employee is limited to 4 hours of administrative leave for voting per election event.
- An employee may use up to 4 hours of administrative leave per leave year for the purpose of serving as a non-partisan poll worker or non-partisan observer, including training periods. If those duties require the employee to be absent for a longer period of time, the employee must use annual leave (accrued or advanced), earned compensatory time off, or credit hours earned under a flexible work schedule. An employee may also request leave without pay according to agency internal policies and any applicable collective bargaining agreement.
Some lawmakers have pushed to make election day a federal holiday. While that has so far not been made into a law, this executive order and OPM’s guidance is a step in the direction of making it a de facto holiday for the federal workforce without going through Congress and the usual legislative process. In some respects, this new leave policy is more generous than a federal holiday because leave can be used in any election as opposed to just federal elections.